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Consumer Health Resources: Can I Trust It?

to help library patrons find good health information.

How Can You Tell if a Website is Credible and Trustworthy?

Whose site is it? or Who runs the site?

Every website name ends in 3 letters. On .edu or .gov sites, you are more likely to find credible information. However, some sites may use these domains to mislead you.

  • .edu  means it's most likely an educational institution like a school, college, or university
  • .gov identifies it as a U.S. government agency
  • .org can identify a nonprofit such as professional groups; scientific, medical, or research societies, and advocacy groups.
  • .com  is a commercial website like health insurance company or pharmaceutical company. 

While .org and .com sites may have credible information, you do need to consider the organization’s purpose and objective to determine if it could be biased.

Next, check the “About Us” section, typically on the bottom of the home page, to make sure the site represents an established institution with a proven track record of providing factual information.

What is the site’s primary purpose?

Is the sponsor of the site trying to sell you a product or service? Or is the purpose of the website to provide resources and information?

One way to avoid untrustworthy health information is to look for sites with expertise in the information you seek. For example, if you’re looking for information about the flu vaccine, check out medical websites, such as The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or WebMD®. For information about cancer, visit the American Cancer Society®.

Beware of websites that offer miracle cures or solutions that seem like a magic tonic. you should always be skeptical if a website uses terms such as "scientific breakthrough" or "miracle cure" or  "secret ingredient" or "ancient remedy." Products, services, and treatments that boast amazing, fast results with iffy scientific evidence, should raise red flags.

Where did the information come from?

Look for reputable medical research to back up health claims.

  • Who are the experts cited in the story?
  • Are the health claims backed up by legitimate studies?
  • Are the links to the research or studies credible?

It is sometimes difficult to know, so be wary of anything that seems self-serving or without peer-reviewed research. And remember, just because the author says they are a doctor or health expert doesn’t mean it’s true. One way to check if a health claim is credible is to see if you can find the same information on other, more reputable websites. Or better yet, talk to your doctor.

How up-to-date is the information?

Beware of outdated information, sources, or links to old studies or research. Disease prevention, health research, and medical treatments are constantly changing, and studies sourced in 2001 may be disproved or updated by 2021. Reputable websites review and update content on a regular basis. They should clearly post the most recent update or review date where it can be easily seen.

Does the website protect your privacy?

Always be on guard when it comes to your personal health information. Check the website’s privacy policy, which typically is found at the bottom of the home page. If a website says it uses “cookies” to enhance your user experience, your information may not be private. Read about how the website will use your information or disable the use of cookies through your Internet browser settings. Share only what is necessary to protect yourself from fraud or identity theft.

Are you reading an advertisement?

In most printed magazines, you’ll see content that is actually paid to advertise. While advertisers are getting savvy at making their advertisements look like regular content, most publishers will mark that it is an “ advertising feature” at the top of the page, to help avoid confusion. This type of labeling is less likely to happen online, and therefore, it’s easier to be fooled. If the source is only providing information about certain aspects of a health condition that supports their product or service, be careful. Always check with your doctor before beginning any new treatment or health-related program.

Here are a few additional sources of health information to watch out for:

Online health support groups. Talking about medical issues online is a great way to connect with others. However, it’s important to remember the people you meet online are not qualified health care professionals and may not be giving you credible advice. Even if someone shares the same medical issues as you, they have a different health history, and their medical treatment may be quite different from yours. Their advice is no substitute for your doctor. If you want a second opinion, seek help from medical professionals, not a support group.

Testimonials or product reviews. Online testimonials and reviews can be convincing, especially if you are feeling desperate for a cure to a health problem. Even if the testimonial seems legitimate, consider that the source may have been paid for their endorsement or given free products or services. Here are a few tips for uncovering which online reviews are fake.