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Levy Library Blog

How to Evaluate a Consumer Health Website | The Levy Library

by Angelyn Thornton on 2021-11-10T08:00:00-05:00 | Comments

 

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:

  • Accuracy: Information should be based on facts from medical research, not opinion. Authors’ email address(es)/contact info, and credentials should be provided. Is this person qualified to write on this topic? Sources for factual information should be listed.
  • Authority: Who created the website? Check the “About us” page. Check the website’s URL. The web address can provide information about the nature of the site. Websites from the U.S. government (.gov), a university (.edu), and health organizations or professional societies (.org) are considered reputable with no financial gain. In addition, author’s credentials and affiliations should be listed to demonstrate that he or she can write with authority on the topic.
  • Bias/Objectivity: Information should be objective and free of bias. Is the purpose and intention of the site clear? There should be no advertisements, no marketing. Blogs are opinion-based, not reliable, authoritative sources.
  • Currency: Is the information current? The date the website was last updated should be listed. If it contains links, are they up-to-date? 
  • Coverage/Design: Is the site well-designed? It should be free of broken links, typos, spelling errors. These could be indicators that the site is not maintained, not up-to-date, or not from a credible source. You should be able to view information without fees or browser issues. 

 

  

 

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:


References

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. Guide to healthy web surfing [Internet] MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine; 2015 [cited 2021Nov4]. Available from https://medlineplus.gov/healthywebsurfing.html

  5. 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


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