Can We Trust Health Information on the Internet?

On a daily basis, I receive plenty of emails that relate to health and wellness topics. Many of them touting the latest and greatest weight-loss supplements, medicinal cures for this or that condition, most current exercise trends; the list is endless.

Do I take this information at face value? No way. I’ve been surfing the Internet for around 14 years, and have learned that not questioning what I read can lead to making foolish mistakes, such as buying a product that touts great health benefits, only to find out it was simply a waste of money.

How do we, as consumers, figure out who the true experts are? What gives them the authority to be a health/wellness expert? How do we plow through the hype and discover which promises are empty ones, and which ones we can actually trust? Additionally, if we’ve been diagnosed with an illness, and have questions we want answered, how do we find current and correct answers, rather than outdated information and even worse, scams that prey on our vulnerability?

These are the keys to becoming a savvy health consumer:

• Consider the source of the health information. My top resources for health and wellness topics are non-commercial websites. They are the sites connected to government agencies, universities, hospitals, public health/advocacy and professional health organizations. The information provided by these types of agencies is gleaned through peer-reviewed research.

• Reliable websites use current information that is current – Trusted sources of health information regularly review and update their articles and they document their facts with citations and sources.

• Untrustworthy sources are ones that rely on testimonials, rather than on medical facts. Sites that are trying to sell something rely on testimonials, hype, and biased opinions. They are trying to make money by convincing consumers to buy what their paid advertisers are selling.

• Read the “About” page, which will tell you if the site has an editorial board that reviews article before being posted. Look for contact information on the website. If you can’t figure out who is running the site, this is a major warning flag for the consumer. You should be able to email them with questions or concerns about the website.

• Read the websites privacy policy. If you are providing a website with personal information, you may want to know exactly how that personal information will be used. For profit sites may be selling your information to databases, which could load your inbox with spam emails.

Skepticism has its place when searching the Internet, especially when it comes to our own health, one of the most important riches of our lives. It’s up to us to take charge of our health and wellness as we age, and taking the time to become a savvy health consumer can help us do just that.

While researching the internet to get some general background on a disease, condition, diet program, and so on, is a good idea, it doesn’t take place of your doctor’s care. You may find that your search leads you to questions or concerns that require a consultation with your doctor.

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