Not All Health Websites Are Created Equal

If you are looking for medical information online these days, you are not alone.

A 2009 study by the Centers for Disease Control found that 61% of adults use the Internet to find health and medical information, and the majority of these are women.

Unfortunately, not all health information websites are credible. Some may push certain health agendas for advertising purposes or are just reflections of personal opinion. Even credible health websites, if not updated, might contain information that is out of date, inaccurate, or even dangerous.

How to be a smart online health consumer.

So, how do we decide which sites to trust and which ones to avoid? Here are some questions to ask:

From where is the information coming?

Domains tell you a lot about a website’s source: .gov, .mil, .us are US government sites; .edu is for educational institutions; .org is mostly used by non-profits (but can now be used commercially); and .com is for general and commercial use. I recommend starting with .gov, .edu, and .org websites.

Who wrote the content?

Are the authors medical experts themselves, or have medical experts reviewed the content? Only use sites where the author or organization’s credentials are easy to find and clearly displayed.

What is the purpose of the website?

Always check the “About Us” section to learn about the group publishing the information. Be sure that the website publishers are open about who they are and from where their funding comes. Be wary of sites that are advertising or selling products to improve your health.

Does the site provide source materials?

Reliable health sites will cross-reference their information with credible medical literature like scientific journals or the National Library of Medicine. You can’t rely on claims from just one website.

How old is the content?

Medical research is discovering new things all the time. Be sure you are looking at current information. Check the date the website was reviewed or published (usually located at the bottom of the page).

Does it have HONcode certification?

If yes, this means the Health On the Net Foundation has reviewed the site and tested it for quality health information.

What sites do I recommend?

Here are my top five favorites for heart health information:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Women’s Health: A public education initiative from the U.S. government that is packed with updated information about women’s health, including sections on women and heart and vascular disease.
  • WomenHeart: Founded by three women who had heart attacks while in their 40s and found little information or services for women with heart disease, this site contains up-to-date women’s heart health information that is very patient- and family-friendly.
  • Million Hearts™: This national initiative aims to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over five years and includes resources from the CDC, The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), American Heart Association (AHA), American College of Cardiology (ACC), and many others.
  • AHA Heart Hub®: A nicely organized patient portal that includes tools, videos, podcasts, and other resources about cardiovascular disease and stroke.
  • Texas Heart Institute Heart Information Center: Of course, I encourage you to visit our own website which includes more than 170 heart-health topics, as well as special sections for women’s health and for kids and educators. But we’re not just tooting our own horn. I am proud to say that The Center for Women’s Heart & Vascular Health website was honored in the Web Health Awards competition for being one of the nation’s best digital health resources.

It’s an information jungle out there, but if you follow your instincts and these few guidelines, you’ll be far more likely to find the reliable information you’re looking for. Happy surfing!

Until next time!

Stephanie Coulter, MD

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