Submitted By: Doreen Fofonoff
Do you surf the Internet? A number of individuals with congenital heart conditions often search the Web for health related information. The number of Web sites offering health information has grown by leaps and bounds over the past several years. However, it can often be difficult to tell whether or not the information you find is reliable and accurate. Anyone can publish on the Internet and much of the health information is not regulated. Many web sites offer high quality information but others may have inaccurate or misleading information. You should evaluate the quality of the information you find and not take it at face value. Much of the information may be of a general nature and does not constitute medical advice. The Internet can supplement (but never replace) advice from your doctor or qualified health professional. You should always consult them regarding information you found on the Internet, as your own personal situation may be different.
Here are some questions to keep in mind as you surf the Internet?
Who runs the Web site? Any web site should make it easy for you to learn who is responsible for the site and its information. Medically trained and qualified health professionals should give any medical or health advice. Make sure the source is credible. Look for sites of trustworthy organizations with a good reputation.
Who pays for the Web site? The source of the web site`s funding should be clearly stated or readily apparent. For example, addresses ending in .com are commercial businesses, .edu indicates an educational institution, .gov are government sponsored sites, .net refers to an Internet organization or provider, and .org are non profit organizations and groups.
What is the purpose of the Web site? There should be a link on the web site`s home page that clearly describes why the author(s) have posted the information. Make sure that the Web site is not trying to sell you a product.
Where does the information come from? Is the site a Canadian site? Health information on non-Canadian sites can be different to that provided on Canadian sites, e.g. different health care systems, medications, etc. If the Web master of the site did not develop the information, the original source should be documented. Compare data from different sites to make sure that there is a consensus of opinion.
How is the information on the Web site documented? Is the information someone`s opinion? Is there a bias in the information? The site should identify the evidence on which the material is based. Medical facts and figures should have references based on evidence, such as those that appear in medical or professional journals.
How is the information reviewed before it is posted on the Web site? The site should give information about the credentials of the people who prepare or review the material on the Web site.
How current is the information on the site? Is the information out of date? Information on the web sites should be reviewed and updated regularly. The last review date should be clearly posted.
How does the Web site manage interactions with users? There should always be a way for you to contact the Webmaster with problems, feedback, and questions. Remember to always consult your physician or other health care provider before acting on any health information you review on the Internet.
Center for Medicare Education (2002) Finding reliable health-care information on the Internet. Retrieved September 29, 2003 from MedicareEd.org
Health on the Net Foundation (2002). HON code of condut (HONcode) for medical and health Web sites. Retrieved September 29, 2003 from www.hon.ch
National Cancer Institute (2002) Ten things to know about evaluating medical resources on the Web. Retrieved September 29, 2003 from www.cancerindex.org/clinks18.htm