As part of their patient and public information remit, health libraries are trying to engage more with customers outside the healthcare workforce. As part of this effort I wanted to do something small but important in talking about the massive amount of information which is published on the internet which discusses the full range of ‘disease’ possibilities which any one of us could fall subject to. So I did some searching and came up with some useful tips….
Who runs the website? Trustworthy websites make this clear, often on every page, for example NHS Choices feature their logo on all pages. Some good websites to begin with…
ALSO – most reputable websites have a section called ‘about us’ on their homepage
What is the purpose of the website?
Is it selling something? a product or a point of view, is it trying to raise money? if so be cautious, all these scenarios suggest bias , when you are looking for health related information you want to make sure that the source is honest, straightforward and objective and not trying to persuade you.
look out for…
A trustworthy health website should use simple language and any ‘claims’ should be checked on other similar websites, also consider the original source, where did the website get its information from? Is it clearly identified?
The importance of the web address
The most reliable websites are often set up by official organisations and businesses. They can often be identified by their suffix.
.org (not for profit organisations) .co.uk (company website in UK
ac.uk (educational sites) .com (commercial organisations)
How is the information on the site documented?
Is the information referenced correctly so you could easily find where it came from? Medical facts/figures and research statistics should always say where they came from.
Does the site make it clear when it is giving someones’s opinion or offering advice when the information is evidence-based?
Who prepares or reviews the website?
The website should make this clear, what are the medical credentials of the writers and the reviewers?
How current is the information?
Healthcare websites should be reviewed and updated regularly. Check the bottom of the page – this should tell you when the page was last updated. You could also test some of the links, if these are broken the site may not be regularly checked for currency and the information may well be inaccurate.
How does the website interact with its visitors?
Reliable websites will always give you a way to contact them, to ask for help or to give feedback.