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Consumer Focus: How to Find Reliable Health Information
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How to Find Reliable Health Information

The volume of health information available is overwhelming, and searching for this information can be frustrating, confusing, and time consuming. The Federal Citizen Information Center has compiled some tips to get you started in your search for reliable health information.

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Traditional Resources

Even without the World Wide Web, there are many ways to find resources available to aide you in your search for the medical information you need.

Visit Your Community Library

  • Before you visit your library, make a list of the topics you want information about and questions you have. This will make it easier for the librarian to direct you to the best resources.
  • Be sure to check medical references such as: medical dictionaries or encyclopedias, drug information handbooks, basic medial textbooks and directories of physicians and medical specialists.
  • Many libraries have Infotrac, a CD-ROM computer database, which indexes popular magazines and newspapers, as well as some medical journals

*Medical libraries can usually be found at medical, nursing, and dental schools or large medical centers but not all are open to the public. Ask your librarian or contact the National Network of Libraries of Medicine to locate the nearest regional medical library.

Call a Federal Government Clearinghouse

  • The Federal Government operates a number of clearinghouses and information centers. Services vary but may include publications, referrals, and answers to consumer inquiries. For more information on these clearinghouses, contact the National Health Information Center.
  • For any other questions you may have about Federal Government, contact the Federal Citizen Information Center's National Contact Center at 1-800-FED-INFO (1-800-333-3436).

Find an Association or Voluntary Organization

Consult Your Healthcare Provider

  • Your personal physician, specialist, pharmacist, dietician or other health professional is invaluable source information - especially since they are familiar with your specific condition and medical history. He/she can direct you to sources of specific health information.

*Please be advised that online health information, or any information you may gather, should only be used as a means of supplementing the information you receive from your health care provider. You should always consult with your physician before taking any new medication or changing your medical treatment.


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Searching on the Internet

Lots of information is available, but you can't believe everything you see. Anyone who has a computer and a modem can publish a web page or post information. Consumers must protect themselves by carefully checking out the source of any information they obtain.

Searching for medical information can be confusing, especially for first-timers. However, most software and information services are user friendly and allow people with no formal training in computer searching to use databases to obtain information. Using a computer, you can find health information by searching CD-ROM databases, searching the Internet, or using a health-related software programs. Some databases include MEDLINE®, DIRLINE®, and CHID Online.

The web offers other resources such as bulletin boards, forums for discussion, and on-line support groups. Although these "newsgroups" can provide reliable information about specific diseases and disorders, they can also perpetuate misinformation. Assessing the value and validity of health and medical information in news and chat groups demands at least the same - and maybe more - discrimination as for websites, because you often can't identify the source.


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Tips for Evaluating Health Information on the Web

Keep in mind that not all information is written by qualified medical experts. Your doctor may be able to recommend some helpful Internet sites. It may also be helpful to ask a health professional about the information you find on the Internet before buying products on-line. Here are some tips to consider when searching for health information on the web.

  • Ask yourself who maintains the website. Any good health-related website should make it easy for you to learn who is responsible for the site and its information. Some reliable websites providing health information include those of government agencies, health foundations and associations, and medical colleges.
  • It should be clear which organization(s) contribute funding, services, or other support to the website. The source of funding can affect what content is presented, how it is presented, and what the site owners want to accomplish on the site.
  • Identify the true source of the information. Many health/medical sites post information from other websites or sources. If the person/organization in charge of the website did not create the information, the original source should be clearly labeled. Information that is backed up by other medical professionals and researchers is more likely to be accurate.
  • Check the author's or organization's credentials. They should be clearly displayed on the website.
  • How current is the information? Websites should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.
  • Find out what information the site collects about you and why. Any credible health site asking for personal information should tell you exactly what they will and will not do with it. A website's privacy policy should be clearly posted on the site. Be certain that you read and understand any privacy policy or similar language on the site, and don't sign up for anything that you are not sure you fully understand.
  • Be very careful about giving out credit-card information on the Internet. Review a site's security and privacy policy before you purchase a product on-line.
  • Many reputable sites with health and medical information offer access and materials for free. If a site does charge a fee, be sure that it offers value for the money.
  • Compare the information you find on the Internet with other resources and check to see if the information or advice is similar.

* Remember: No one regulates information on the Internet.

Stay tuned for more information on buying medication and other health products online.



Other Resources

This is just a brief overview. For more information on reliable health information, check out these resources the World Wide Web:

Publications available:


There are literally thousands of health-related Internet resources maintained by government agencies, universities, and nonprofit and commercial organizations. Below is a list of links to reputable sites that link to other sites with health and medical information. The list is by no means complete; it is offered as a jumping-off point.

* Names of resources and organizations included in this online article are provided as examples only, and their inclusion does not mean that they are endorsed by the Federal Citizen Information Center or any Government agency. Also, if a particular resource or organization is not mentioned, this does not mean or imply that it is unsatisfactory.

*If you click on these links, you are leaving our website. Please bookmark us before you leave so you can return easily. We are not responsible for the content of these websites.



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