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Health information online

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Which sites are reliable?

The number of websites offering health products and supplements grows every day. Some sites offer valuable, reliable information. Others promote false or overstated health claims that aren't backed by scientific research.

The next time you look up health information online, keep in mind the following questions. They'll help you figure out if the site you're visiting can be trusted.

Who runs the website?

Any good health-related site should make it easy for you to learn who's responsible for the site and its information. You may find this in an "About us" page. Or look for information on the site's policies, terms and conditions, and accreditation information.

Who pays for the website?

Know how the site pays for itself. Does it sell advertising? Is it funded by selling the products it talks about? Is it sponsored by a drug company? The funding source should be clearly stated or easy to find.

Where does the information come from?

Information from government sources such as the National Institutes of Health, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and other organizations offer reliable, up-to-date information.

But many health and medical sites post information collected from other sites or sources that might not be reliable. The original source should be clearly labeled. Beware of a website that:

  • cites a medical journal but gives little or no information about the source (which issue, author, article title, etc.)
  • claims that treatments are endorsed by medical organizations that don't exist

Is there evidence for the claim?

Websites should describe the scientific evidence that their claims are based on. Medical facts and figures should have references (for example, articles in credible medical journals).

Opinions or advice should be clearly set apart from information that is based on research results. Testimonials ("I lost weight by taking 2 pills a day") are not evidence.

How current is the information?

Websites should be reviewed and updated regularly. The most recent update or review date should be clearly posted. Make sure the reviewer is credible (doctor, pharmacist, or other medical professional). Find out how he or she is connected with the information or product.

What personal information does the website collect and why?

Many health sites ask you to "subscribe" or "become a member." Your information may be shared with or sold to other companies, and you may get unwanted advertisements.

Before you give any personal information, be sure that the site explains exactly what they will and will not do with it. Read the privacy policy or similar language on the site. Don't sign up for anything that you are not sure you fully understand, or give information that you don't want to share.

Reviewed by: Paul Millea, MD, June, 2013
Additional Kaiser Permanente reviewers

© 2013 Kaiser Permanente

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