Health Information from the Internet
Every year more and more Australians are using the internet to seek health information. Reasons for this might be:
- to collect more information about a diagnosed condition
- to search for alternative treatments
- to seek support from others who have the same condition
- to look for patient support programs
- to resolve conflicting health information
A range of information is readily available and easy to access via the internet but this can present problems such as how to judge what is factually correct, and importantly what is right for you. It is also possible to find misleading or contradictory information, it may be difficult to find the right information or you may be bombarded with too much information.
When searching the internet for health information, it is important that you are able to recognise reputable websites that provide factual and researched information and do not have a commercial or financial interest in the information they are providing.
It is important not to use the internet to self-diagnose or self-treat a health problem. Always see a health practitioner for professional diagnosis, treatment and management options for health conditions.
How to know if a medical website is reputable
Medical misinformation or 'cyberquackery' is widespread on the internet. When judging whether a medical website is reputable or not, consider the following:
- Who is responsible for the website? Web content and information can be significantly influenced by its creators. Be wary of health information websites that are created by sponsors or those that have a commercial interest in the information provided. Government health websites, such as the Better Health Channel and HealthInsite are reputable sources of health information on the internet.
- Why has the website been produced? Knowing why the site has been produced can help provide you with an idea of any bias the site may have. Be wary of sites that claim to give you an online diagnosis or treatments that you pay for online through the site.
- Is the website easy to understand and well-written? Who is the intended audience of the information on the site? If you cannot understand the website content or the information is too confusing, it will not be helpful to you. Errors or mistakes in content may reflect the inaccuracy of the website.
- Is the information up to date? Online health information should provide the date it was last updated. For a website to be reputable, its content must be updated regularly and also provide details on how the site is reviewed.
- Is the information accurate and reliable? Consider the following: the author of the information, whether the site has an editorial policy, presence of contact details on the page, information source, whether there is justification for any advertising, and if the site has HONcode certification (the HONcode is a code of ethics used by a website manager to provide the public with quality, objective, and transparent medical information).
- Does the website respect my privacy? If a website is collecting your personal information, it is important to know what the creators want it for; some websites may sell or pass on your personal information and others may use the information to better design their site to suit their consumer's needs.
When seeking information about a health condition such as treatment or medication options, it is important to consult with a health practitioner face-to-face. It is also a good idea to discuss health information that you find on the internet or through other sources with your health practitioner.
Where can I get more information?
Content updated April 2012