The Internet gives us access to many excellent sites that provide accurate and reliable information on various aspects of health. In addition, other sites offer cures for diabetes, or magic pills that promise weight loss or eternal youth. Be careful if you access these types of sites! Keep in mind that anyone can post anything on a website! So how can you tell if a health website is trustworthy?
- Reputable source or an authority on health. It is important to consult reputable sites, whose authors or contributors are experts in their field. Major non-profit medical organizations with an educational mission (Canadian Diabetes Association, Arthritis Society, Mayo Clinic, etc.) and government agencies (Health Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada, etc.) post reliable up-to-date information based on scientific research. When you visit a site, ask yourself the following questions: Who is responsible for the site? What is the organization’s contact information? Is the public invited to ask questions or send comments? What are the author’s personal or professional skills and qualifications? Does the site refer you to other reliable sites?
- Well-balanced source. Trustworthy sites present various aspects of the topic: benefits, risks, side effects, variations from one group to another, research shortcomings, etc. Beware of sites that tell you to ignore what your main health care provider recommends; do not encourage you to consult a doctor; urge you to stop taking prescribed treatments or medication, or suggest that you stop eating an entire food group recommended in the Food Guide! Avoid sites that sell supposedly “natural” products without referring to sound scientific research and that cite rather unreliable sources such as opinions or personal experiences. If the information seems “too good to be true,” it probably is. Remember that there are no quick fixes when it comes to health!
- Relevant source: A trustworthy site should indicate who the information is for. It must be well organized, accessible and timely. You should find information that suits your needs, interests, age, gender, etc. Is it a Canadian source that reflects your situation?
- Reliable source: Are the site’s mission and purpose clearly stated? If you are asked to provide personal information or pay a sum of money, is the reason clear? A trusted site usually contains a confidentiality policy and an undertaking not to disclose your personal information to third parties. The identity of the site should be obvious and can sometimes be recognized first, by the domain or second, by the address (URL). For example, “gc.ca” indicates a Government of Canada website; “.ca” indicates a Canadian site; “.gov” is reserved for United States government departments; “.org” may indicate a non-profit organization, “.int”, an international organization and “.com” indicates a commercial website.
Good luck with your research and remember… your health is your business!