ANYONE can put information on the Internet. ANYONE.
As a health care provider, you must carefully select and evaluate medical/health information before using it to treat patients or letting it influence how you perform your duties. Use the evaluating sources section of this guide to help you determine the credibility of Web sites.
A great final test is to ask yourself, "Would I want myself or someone that I care deeply about to be treated based on this information?" If the answer is "no," don't include such non-credible information in your academic projects either!
The Internet is a popular place to seek medical information. Many consumers consult the Web first for their medical information needs. Although the Web does offer valuable information, seekers must exercise caution because the Web contains many unreliable sites as well.
Whether utilizing a print resource (like a book or journal article) or an electronic source like a Web site article, researchers should always take the time to critically analyze the source for credibility. Emphasis should be put on evaluating the following areas:
Is the site maintained by a credible organization, physician, or university? Is it by an individual with a disease or disorder who is putting up his/her personal experiences? Although on a support level, the latter might be useful to a consumer, the former would be more likely to give out objective and accurate information.
Is the site objective, or is it trying to sell products that will ease the woes of the consumer's condition? Again checking authorship might be essential here, as a drug company might take a different outlook on a disease than a non profit organization would. Having a philosophical or bio-ethical viewpoint does not negate the validity of a site, but rather can foster debate and examination of issues. However, it is preferable that a site should clearly represent its persuasion.
What type of information is contained in the site? Is it annotated and is it comprehensive or does it cover a specific area of a topic? The reference interview will help you determine if the client’s needs are better suited by a comprehensive overview or a more tailored content site.
How current is the Web site? Does it give a "last updated" message? If not, it is questionable how timely the site is. Perhaps they have put up the site and never maintained it.
Is the Web site easy to navigate? Do the links work and is the site designed so as to have self-explanatory categories? Are the graphics too large or cumbersome and does the site load quickly or slowly? Many people get annoyed and impatient with sites that take too long to load or have dead links. This is an important consideration.
Is the site intended for professionals or consumers? What is the reading level of the material? Is it intended for adults or children?
What does the site intend to do? Give objective facts and information, sell something, or persuade?
Does the site include references to back up its claims?
Does what the site offers have certain value? Does it contain material that either cannot be found elsewhere or presents it in a better way than other sources?
Need more help evaluating sources? Check out the COD Library's Evaluating Information Sources pages: