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Evaluating Health Information

How to read and evaluate medical information (even if you're not a scientist)

Don's just ask Dr. Google!

Start with a Trustworthy Source

If you're searching for answers to your health-related questions, though, for best results --

search within respected collections of health and medical information, like these:

Tip: Finding Trustworthy Cancer Information is Hard

It can be difficult to tell if information aimed at cancer patients is accurate, up-to-date, and not a scam. Even if it looks credible, we also need to decide if that's actually useful for you or your loved one. (Stories about one person's cancer experience can be informative, inspiring, or reassuring - but please don't base a treatment decision just on someone else's story.) Here is good advice from the National Cancer Institute:

Think critically!

The Trust it? or Trash it? sequence on the next page is a great tool for deciding what's accurate and useful from any piece of health information.

It's not the only tool, though. Cochrane, an organization devoted to promoting evidence-based medical research, recommends that we 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?

Savvy searchers will want to check out these links with other really useful sets of questions to ask:

Tip: Look for Peer-Reviewed and Evidence-Based Sources

Peer review is a quality-assurance check on research. Experts in that topic (who were not involved in the research project) read through research reports before they can be published. The reviewers' main job is to make sure that the research project's methods were properly done, and that the study's findings and conclusions are in line with good scientific practice. The reviewers don't have to agree with the study results - but they do have to approve its science before it can be published.

In checking health information, it's also important to know if it's evidence-based. See this page for explanations.

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