Tips on browsing internet health sites

Michelle Berriedale-Johnson gives some tips on web browsing and John Scott points visitors to some useful sites.


For those with health problems the wonderful world wide web           provides access to spectacular quantities of information - but by no means all of it is reliable. So, if you wish to get the best out of this            fantastic resource, you need to hone your critical antennae by applying objective criteria to every site you visit. Basically, you always need to know whether:
1. The website is providing accurate information
2. What its motivation is for doing so.   (Non-profit support group or       charity? Government, university or research institution? Commercial?)
So, before you take a site for genuine look for:

•           The name of the owner of the site with their physical and electronic addresses and telephone numbers and the details of what they are - public body, private not-for-profit organisation, commercial site etc.You should find these details on the Home page under the About Us heading.

•           Clear information about the target audience of the site and, and, if it is not a purely commercial site, details about its funding (grants,
commercial sponsors etc).
It may have a mission statement which explains its purpose although beware, as commercial sites may masquerade as support groups with convincing mission statements. Always check back to the parent organisation and, if you cannot find one, be suspicious.

•            Commercial sites. A huge number of sites are there purely to sell you something - and there is nothing wrong with that as long as they are upfront about it. But beware of advertorials (advertisements which look like editorial), endorsements and testimonials (‘This is the most amazing treatment - it cured my .... in four days after years of suffering...’) Although these may be perfectly genuine, they could also have been written by the webmaster’s brother!

•           Check the links and whether they go to other reputable sites.

•           Check that the site offers feedback possibilities and that they do respond to queries.

•           Check when the site was last updated - the information given could be seriously out of date.

•           Finally, never rely on the first site that you visit. It will take longer but, especially if you are using a general search engine like Google, check out a minimum of five sites on your chosen topic before believing what any of them say! Happy browsing!

John Scott's suggestions

There is a huge amount of health information on the internet, but much of it is of poor quality. Below is a list of sites which provide the very best information available.

Written by doctors and reviewed by an independent board.

Best Health
Easy-to-understand website from the British Medical Journal.

Mayo Clinic
A not-for-profit medical practice with hospital and research facilities across the US.

NHS Choices
The website of the UK National Health Service.

Informed Health Online
High quality, research-based, independent health information.

Patient UK
Comprehensive health information from doctors and nurses.

A directory of articles from the US National Library of Medicine.

A portal linking to many other high-quality healthcare websites.

Centers for Disease Control
A wide range of health information from the US Government's Centers for Disease Control.


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First Published in 2006

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