Google Medicine: Where to Find Reputable Health Information Online - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on December 29, 2015

Google Medicine: Where to Find Reputable Health Information Online

Crozer-Keystone Health SystemMedia Contact:
Mary Wascavage
(610) 284-8619

At some point, you likely have had an ache, pain, cut or burn and wondered what caused it, how to make it go away or if there was something more serious going on. Back in the day, we relied solely on our doctors to answer our health questions, but now the Internet provides us with thousands of health resources.

“A study in 2009 says even 88 percent of doctors, myself included, have searched the Internet for health-related information,” said Felecia Sumner, D.O., a Crozer-Keystone Family Medicine physician. “With more than 60,000 identified illnesses, it's impossible to know everything about everything, so the Internet can be a very helpful tool.”

However, not every website is created equal. Some websites offer credible, reputable and up-to-date health information, while others may be trying to sell you something or provide you with opinions, not facts.

“Doctors typically have specific websites that serve as online textbooks. Unfortunately, these are often not in layman's terms. If you follow this advice, however, you can find helpful information without needing the extensive medical background we have,” she said.

Here’s how you can make sure you’re looking at a reputable source of health information.

Consider the Source

Simply, check to see who’s running the website you’re looking at.

“Is it a branch of the federal government, a non-profit institution, a professional organization, a health system, a commercial organization or an individual? There's a big difference between a site that says ‘I developed this site after my heart attack’ and one that says ‘this page on heart attacks was developed by health professionals at the American Heart Association,” Dr. Sumner said.

You can find this information on an “About Us” or “About this Website” page or section of the website. You should also check to see if the website provides you with a way to contact the organization or webmaster.

“If the site provides no contact information or you can't easily find out who runs the site, I recommend you reconsider your source,” she said.

Look at the URL

In addition to clicking around the website to see who runs it, you can also look at the website address to determine its credibility.

“Good sources of health information include sites that end in .gov. These are typically sponsored by the federal government, like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the FDA, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Dr. Sumner said, adding that .edu sites are usually run by universities or the medical schools and are often reliable.

Websites that end in .org are maintained by nonprofit groups that focus on research and teaching the public about specific diseases or conditions such as the American Diabetes Association, the American Cancer Society, or the American Heart Association.

“Sites with addresses end in .com are usually commercial sites and are often selling products, so be mindful of this,” she said.

Beware of Sensational Claims

Be skeptical of websites containing claims that one remedy will cure a variety of conditions and illnesses, that it’s a breakthrough, or that its product relies contains a secret ingredient.

“If the website uses a sensational writing style, lots of exclamation points for example, proceed with caution and discuss your findings with your doctor,” Dr. Sumner said.

Make Sure it’s Current

“Science is changing rapidly, so it’s important that the medical information you receive it up to date,” she said. “Websites should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.” Find out if the information you’re reading is current or has been reviewed and updated by looking at the bottom of the page – that’s where the most recent update or review date is typically posted.

“If there are a lot of broken links to other pages, then it is likely not updated regularly,” Dr. Sumner said.

When in Doubt, Talk to your Doctor

As helpful as the Internet can be, it can’t see you, hear your story, smell or touch you. The Internet also doesn’t have intuition or gut feelings about you – your doctor does.

“If you had a leak from your car, you'd likely go to your mechanic before you'd rely on Google to fix it yourself,” Dr. Sumner said. “With your body being so much more valuable, put your trust in the physician who has had many years of training and expertise to take the bests care of you.”

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