Linda Paulls, MLIS
Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Librarian
Consumer health information is information on health topics and medical conditions available to the general public at the layperson level, usually written in non-technical language. It’s estimated that 70% of U.S. adults search the web for health information.1 Online information can influence health beliefs and health decision-making. Unfortunately, not all health websites are credible, accurate, or up-to-date. With so many seeking online health information, some less-than-credible or opportunistic websites can attempt to influence information-seekers for their own gain, rather than offer unbiased, evidence-based information. Some of these websites offer opinions not facts, while others are motivated by a sponsor or business with the goal of promoting something.
So, how can information-seekers identify a credible website from a bad website? Luckily, there is criteria for evaluating consumer health websites, sometimes referred to as the ABC’s of evaluating consumer health websites:
Many consumer health websites choose to abide by the Health-on-the-Net Code (HON). The HONcode Symbol represents the code of conduct of the Health On the Net Foundation, one of the most widely used and best trusted ethical codes for consumer health websites. It is still advisable to evaluate website content even when the HONcode symbol is present.
For more information on evaluating consumer health websites, visit:
The Levy Library Guide: Consumer Health Information, A Brief Guide: https://libguides.mssm.edu/consumer-health-information
Medical Library Association (MLA): For Consumers and Patients, Find Good Health Information: https://www.mlanet.org/page/find-good-health-information
(National Library of Medicine) MedlinePlus: Guide to Healthy Web Surfing: https://medlineplus.gov/healthywebsurfing.html
AmericanFamilyDoctor.org: Finding Information on the Web, Finding Reliable Information: https://familydoctor.org/health-information-on-the-web-finding-reliable-information/?adfree=true
Sun Y, Zhang Y, Gwizdka J, Trace CB. Consumer evaluation of the quality of online health information: Systematic literature review of relevant criteria and indicators. J Med Internet Res. 2019 May;21(5): e12522. Available from DOI: 10.2196/12522
Kapoun, J. Teaching undergrads web evaluation: a guide for library instruction. C&RL News. 1998 July/August: 522-523. [cited 2021Nov4]. Available from https://crln.acrl.org/index.php/crlnews/article/view/23707/31079
For health consumers and patients: find good health information [Internet] Medical Library Association (MLA); 2021 [cited 2021 Nov4]. Available from https://www.mlanet.org/page/find-good-health-information
Guide to healthy web surfing [Internet] MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine; 2015 [cited 2021Nov4]. Available from https://medlineplus.gov/healthywebsurfing.html
The commitment to reliable health and medical information on the internet [Internet] HonCode patient/individual. Health on the Net; 2018 [cited 2021 Nov4] Available from https://www.hon.ch/HONcode/Patients/Visitor/visitor.html