February 12, 2013 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, LMSW, MS

With the explosion of health information available online and in print media it can be difficult for consumers to determine which sources to trust and which ones to toss.  As with all of the material available on the World Wide Web, consumers must exercise caution and diligence when evaluating the veracity of internet information. While we may be pretty good at knowing how to determine which sites look trustworthy enough to safely manage credit card information or other private data, it may be more difficult for consumers to assess the reliability of health information on the internet. Given the sometimes high stakes involved in making healthcare decisions perhaps such sites should be required to include links which will connect consumers to tools which will train them to better evaluate health information in the media. Though this will not guarantee any given web surfer will take advantage of these links, but it could be a start to improving health information literacy.

In order to learn more about how one might go about learning to be an informed consumer of internet health information I went directly to; you guessed it, the internet.  Irony aside, I found some fairly good resources.  A good place for consumers to begin is with learning what to look for when searching for health care information.  The National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health offer information, tutorials, and research related to evaluating health information. In addition to reminding people to be skeptical of ‘too good to be true’ claims, this resource reminds web surfers to check the source of the information to see if the claims are supported by quality research from reputable institutions.  Written in basic language with additional links, this site was appealing and easy to navigate. 

A few other good sites for consumers include "Trust It or Trash It", Familydoctor.org, and a guide to healthy web surfing at the National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health. Providers with websites may wish to consider including these links, or similar ones, on patient information pages to help promote internet health information literacy. 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

3 comments | Topics: Doctor-Patient Relationships , Health and the Internet , Health Information Literacy


Athene Aberdeen

Athene Aberdeen wrote on 02/16/13 9:32 PM

Thank you for a very useful piece.
benita zahn

benita zahn wrote on 02/18/13 8:35 PM

What makes this a very useful blog entry is it's role in encouraging doctors to provide such weblinks for their patients. Most 'regular' consumers of health care go directly to the site google suggests when they search out information dealing with their particular issue.
Dan Mayer

Dan Mayer wrote on 02/25/13 3:55 PM

I recommend that anyone interested in health information get on the list of HIFA2015 (Health Information for All by 2015) started by Neil Packenham-Walsh in the UK and serving a very large international group of health providers.

Also, the work of Gerd Gigerenzer focuses on how we explain the probabilities in health care outcomes and treatments to anyone who does not have mastery of numeracy.

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