1. Who sponsors the Web site?
Web sites are expensive to create and manage. Check to see if the funding source readily apparent. If not, then the information might be biased in some way or leave out important things you should know. Sometimes the Web site address itself may help:
- .gov identifies a government agency
- .edu identifies an educational institution
- .org identifies nonprofit organizations (e.g., scientific, advocacy groups, foundations)
- .com identifies commercial Web sites (e.g., businesses, pharmaceutical companies, sometimes hospitals)
2. Is it obvious how to reach the sponsor?
Trustworthy websites will have contact information, often including a toll-free telephone number. The site's home page should list an e-mail address, phone number, or a mailing address where the sponsor and the authors of the information can be reached.
3. Who wrote the information?
Authors and contributors should be identified, including their affiliation and any financial interest in the content. Case studies and patient stories may be helpful, but medical advice offered in a case history should be considered with a healthy dose of skepticism. There is a big difference between a website developed by a person with a financial interest in a topic versus a website developed using strong scientific evidence. Reliable health information comes from scientific research that has been conducted in government, university, or private laboratories.
4. Who reviews the information?
View the "About Us" page on a website to see if there is an editorial board that reviews the information before putting it online. Are the editorial board members experts in the subject you are researching? For example, an advisory board made up of attorneys and accountants is not medically authoritative. Reliable Web sites will tell you where the health information came from and how it has been reviewed.
5. When was the information written?
New research findings can make a difference in making medically smart choices. So, it's important to find out when the information you are reading was written. Look carefully on the home page to find out when the Web site was last updated. The date is often found at the bottom of the home page. Remember: older information isn't useless. Many Web sites provide older articles so readers can get a historical view of the information.
6. Does the site display the HONcode?
The Health on the Net Foundation is an international group that monitors the quality of online healthcare information around the world. If you see its Code of Conduct (HONcode) logo on a website, it is a good indicator that the information is reliability and credible
7. Is your privacy protected?
You want to be as certain as possible that your information is not shared with other lists or companies. Take time to identify and read the website's policy—if the website includes something like, "We share information with companies that can provide you with products," that's a sign your information is not private.
Be careful when purchasing items on the Internet. Web sites without security may not protect your credit card or bank account information. Look for information that indicates that a website has a "secure server" before purchasing anything online.
If you are asked for personal information, be sure to find out how the information is being used by contacting the Web site sponsor by phone, mail, or the "Contact Us" feature on the Web site. Never give out your Social Security number.
8. Are claims too good to be true?
Be careful of claims that any one remedy will cure a lot of different illnesses. Be skeptical of sensational writing or dramatic cures. Make sure you can find other websites with the same information. Don't be fooled by a long list of links—any website can link to another, so no endorsement can be implied, even if not accurate, from a shared link. Information that sounds unbelievable probably is unbelievable.
9. Should you get a professional opinion?
Yes. If you find disease or treatment information online and you’d like to know if it might be an option for you, print out the information and take it with you to your next doctor’s appointment. Talk with your doctor before purchasing any quick cure remedies. Never take any herbal therapies or supplements without talking to your doctor first. Some of these remedies can interfered with how well your treatment works. Others can have serious side effects.