Not all online health information is created equal

Confused young woman looking on laptop feels bewildered by reading online newsAnalysis paralysis?

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the amount of information available on the internet about health? Between social media feeds, news sites and other sources, you might be getting conflicting information and feel confused or untrusting of credible sources. Furthermore, misinformation can lead to dangerous consequences like sickness and even death.

While sites like Facebook have taken it upon themselves to crack down on false and harmful information, there are still bad actors with malicious intentions lurking in the recesses of the internet sometimes in places you might not suspect.

Just how big of an issue is this? Consider the fact that falsehoods are 70% more likely to get shared than accurate news. To counter this, the World Health Organization has taken a number of actions with tech companies to remain one step ahead of misinformation.

This all begs the question: how can you determine— a lay person — what’s credible and what’s not? If you find yourself in this situation we’ve put together a helpful guide you can lean on when evaluating information:

Whose website is it?

Sources need to be unbiased without an agenda. Some of the best websites to gather evidence-based health information include:

  • Government agencies (e.g., National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Health Canada)
  • Medical schools and hospitals (e.g., Harvard Medical School, Mayo Clinic)
  • Online journals and research databases (e.g., PubMed)
  • Professional or nonprofit organizations (e.g., Environmental Working Group (EWG), American Heart Association)

What is the purpose of the website’s content?

Put in the time to determine the site’s underlying purpose. Is it trying to sell products or services? Many brands will have educational blogs on their websites that feature information written or at least corroborated by credible sources. While not always inherently dangerous, it’s important to review any health-related content on a brand’s site to ascertain whether the claims are sound, or if they’re just trying to make a quick buck.

How is the information selected and reviewed to make sure it’s accurate?

  • Vetting is a best practice in the scientific community. That said, you can poke around the site and find out if the site has:
  • An editorial board of health experts
  • A content review process
  • A selection policy for content
  • Information about their writers’ qualifications, which may be listed at the bottom of the articles

If the source ticks all of these boxes, it’s likely to be more credible than not.

When was the information written?

A piece of content from 2012 might no longer be up to the standards of the scientific community. As research advances the domain, older sources might no longer be relevant or accurate. That’s what it’s best to look for published or last updated dates on websites, which can typically be found at the top or bottom of the webpage.

Does the website make health claims that sound too good to be true?

Be skeptical of media outlets that make unrealistic promises (i.e. drop 30 pounds in a month). There’s a good chance they’re playing into the quick-fix mentality and are desperate to sell you a product that doesn’t work or isn’t safe. At best you might throw away your hard-earned money and at worst, you could end up in the hospital. You could avoid both by taking the time to scope out the entity behind the site and what they stand for.

Consult with experts

Not all online health information is created equal, so take care to analyze each piece of information through a scrutinizing lens. In general, seek health information from your practitioner or reputable sources such as the government, academia, peer-reviewed medical journals, medical schools, hospitals and professional or nonprofit organizations.

If you have concerns about something you read, it’s best to have a conversation with your practitioner and ask them for their recommendations for finding credible sources for health information. Furthermore, always speak to your practitioner before adding or changing anything in your wellness plan. Supplements and other products are not regulated by the FDA and can interfere with medications and cause contraindications.

As our name implies, we’re all about empowering you to live your best life and that starts with knowledge. If you’re looking for some guidance on anything related to your health and wellness, we can help. Integrative medicine tries to recognize that each individual is unique and is facing unique circumstances that may be impacting their health and wellness. We believe that promoting the health of the body takes a complete approach to lifestyle, nutrition, addressing physical activity levels and sleep quality, and looking for any allergies or intolerances. If you’re fed up with traditional medicine and want answers (maybe not found online), that’s exactly what we offer. Give us a call at (703) 822-5003and breathe a sigh of relief knowing you’re closer to living a fuller life.