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Evaluating Health Information: Navigating Through Oceans of Information

Evaluating Health Information

We are (and should be) constantly evaluating any new information we receive. If we forget to check to see if that outrageous headline came from a satire website like The Onionthe joke's on us -- but getting fake health information is no joke. Even when medical information is accurate and up-to-date, it might not match up with someone's individual condition or situation.

So how to navigate safely through all the health-related content around us? This guide has advice from medical librarians, including some of the professional tools that we use to choose the links we share on PlaneTree Health Library's webpages. These tips for identifying trustworthy health material, and for evaluating what you find to judge whether it's accurate, objective, and relevant to your specific information need, will help you become a savvy information consumer.

Ultimately, though, be sure to discuss what you find with the health care team to make sure that it's useful information for you (or for the person on whose behalf you're searching).

Start with a Trust-Worthy Source

For the best results --

Start with respected collections of health and medical information, like these:

To evaluate what you find, ask:

  1. who wrote it or is sponsoring the website?
  2. do they make a profit from providing this information?
  3. is it up to date?
  4. does it line up with information from other sources?
  5. does it show where that information came from, in a way that lets you trace the source?
  6. is it based on scientific research, or personal opinion?

See the other pages in this guide for more evaluation tools.

About PlaneTree Health Library

PlaneTree Health Library's mission is to guide the public to trustworthy, accurate, and free health and medical information. It is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. It does not take advertisements and its recommendations are independent of any commercial relationship.

Check Snake Oil and Fad Diet Claims

There is a LOT of inaccurate health information on the internet, in magazine articles and books, on television, hearsay from friends or coworkers ... how can you tell what's accurate? And even if it's accurate, is it the right thing for you? To start, here are some quick fact-checkers and snake-oil-busters: 

Fact-checking health information has its own challenges, as this article from Health News Review points out:

Making Sense of Medical Language

Medical literature is notorious for using jargon words and abbreviations. Here are some dictionaries to help translate:

It can also be hard to interpret a scientific research report if not already familiar with that form of literature. See this page for tips on how to read a scientific article.

Is it the Right Information?

Even the most accurate information might not be the best (or even the right) information. Diagnosis is tricky, and should be left to qualified professionals. No one wants to be a cyber-hypochondriac!

Be sure to discuss information gathered from these resources with your health care providers to see if it is relevant to your individual situation. Health and medical information accessed through these websites is not intended to substitute for or to replace the advice or instruction of a health care professional. 

Time Cycle of Information

Medical research has a predictable cycle - and what kinds of information you can find about the results of new research, and in which format, depends on where you are in the timeline. Once there's an announcement about promising research (the "current event"), it will take some time to be able to read about it in reputable sources.

 

information time cycle

 

Fields, Erin. Publishing Cycle. Digital image. Library : Module 5 Publishing Life Cycle. University of British Columbia, 30 Aug. 2013. Web. <http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_5_Evaluating_Information_Sources>.

The text on this page is copyright PlaneTree Health Library, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA. Linked contents are the responsibility of their creators / copyright holders.