Consumer Focus: How to
Find Reliable Health Information
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
Learn more about:
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.
- 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
- Be sure to check
medical references such as: medical dictionaries or encyclopedias, drug
information handbooks, basic medial textbooks and directories of physicians and
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
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.
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
- How current is the
information? Websites should be reviewed and updated on a regular
- 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
language on the site, and don't sign up for anything that you are not sure you
- Be very careful about
giving out credit-card information on the Internet. Review a site's security
- 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.
This is just a brief
overview. For more information on reliable health information, check out these
resources the World Wide Web:
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
* 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.
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