OK, I confess; sometimes, if I’m not feeling well or some part of my body is bothering me, I turn to the Web first to try and find the culprit. I don’t intend to diagnose myself, but sometimes the convenience of having all that information at my fingertips makes it too easy. And I don’t think I’m alone. The Washington Post published an article earlier this month on the increasing use of the Internet to search for health topics. The article also mentions a new term, “cyberchondriac,” which is similar to a hypochondriac except that the person uses the Web to further her fears and anxiety about her health. Thankfully, that’s not me!
But even though I’m turning to the Web for more information, I try not to let my amateur medical research get in the way of me seeing my health provider regularly or when there’s a problem. While the Internet can be a useful tool, there’s also a lot of junk out there, so I try to make sure that the information I’m getting is from a good source.
Here are some tips that can help you know if a Web site is a good source for health information:
• Find out who sponsors the Web site. Knowing what organization or company pays for the site can help you determine if the site’s information is credible.
• Look at the Web address to know what kind of organization it is. Government sites end in .gov; educational institutions end in .edu; professional organizations (scientific or research) end in .org; and business or commercial sites end in .com. Some health Web sites that end in .com can offer credible information (for example, hospitals or health organizations). Be sure that the .com site discloses any sponsorship for its health information or if it endorses any products or services.
• Science and medical recommendations change over time. Make sure the Web site and information is updated frequently and lists when the information was last revised.
• Information on the site should be based on facts and able to be verified. Any opinions should be clearly identified as such.