Skip to main content

Patient Education and Health Literacy: Evaluating Internet Resources

This guide offers resources for learning about health literacy and pointers for identifying high-quality information for your patients.

Introduction

Be careful about reading health books.  You may die of a misprint.
~ Mark Twain

This guide offers some tips on how to critically evaluate web sites claiming to offer consumer health information.  See the main Patient Education tab for some reliable resources.

Fun with Fakes

Health on the Net

The Health On the Net Foundation (HON) promotes and guides the deployment of useful and reliable online health information.  The HON Foundation established a voluntary code of ethical conduct, the HONcode, which specifies eight principles intended to hold website developers to basic ethical standards and to make sure consumers always know the source and purpose of the data they are reading.

Read their evaluation guide to see how they assess and issue HONcode certifications.  Look for the logo on websites you visit to help assess their validity.

What to Look For

Determine the purpose of the page

 Assess the Accuracy

  • Should present factual information based on medical research, not opinion.

Consider the source

  • Who sponsors the website?  Look for an "About" page to assess the author's credentials. (Example here.  Note that the site is sponsored by a law firm that specializes in litigation related to the disease.)
  • Are they trying to sell you something?

Check the Currency

  • Is the information current?  When was the last update?

Review the Coverage

  • Are all aspects of the subject covered?  How detailed is the information?

Protect your privacy

  • Health information should be confidential.

Look for quality

  • All web sites are not created equal.  Watch out for typos and lots of exclamation points.

Be a cyberskeptic

  • Remember, anyone can post anything on the internet.  Quackery abounds.

Always consult with your health professional

  • A website should have a disclaimer stating that the content is information, not medical advice.
  • Patient/provider partnerships lead to the best medical decisions.

Adapted from the MedlinePlus Guide to Healthy Web Surfing