The Risks of Misleading Health Information can lead to the greatest risk of suffering repercussions due to trusting unreliable sources.


By Emad El Alem - Biomedresearches Publisher
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Online Health Information: Is It Reliable?

It is very common for the normal internet surfers and searchers not to think of medical information validity and reliability found in websites until a while, and may be in particular when the content is contradicting or similar. At that moment, they will start to think and raise worries wither the information is correct or not, which will take them to the next question: Does the website is reliable, credible and trusted? Is it approved as one of the providers of medical and health information via the Internet? Questions will continue until they reach a point that they will leave their subject of concern and will look after the source of information to determine its credibility, wasting the time while their doubts are increased without getting answers for what they were sought to know in the first place! Raising the question of credibility of medical sites as a source of health information is one of the topics of constant discussion and argument between the public and specialists alike, therefore, there seems to be an urgent need to reach certain criteria that can always be applied in determining the extent to which the site is reliable. Some say governments and affiliated websites that fall under their umbrella or federal agencies are the most reliable, and this is something we acknowledge is true, especially in democratic transparent countries, in which governments are only executive bodies that are strictly monitored by legislative and judicial authorities, and they cannot manipulate or hide information, but rather deal with complete transparency and credibility in its proposal. Of course, universities, research bodies and some international hospitals are also reliable sources from which the information can be obtained, but though, there must be a standard that individuals can apply themselves in building up a judgment on any site, and this is what I will try to do in this article.
It is unfair to say: “only governments, universities and some well-known hospitals are the most reliable medical websites”, as there are many websites belonging to health agencies and organizations, non-profit and even individuals that provide reliable information, and apply the highest standards of accuracy and credibility while handling the topics. Therefore, we will go beyond all site’s ownership regardless of their backgrounds and we will work to apply the following in our evaluation for any medical and health website in the internet:
- - In the beginning, we shall look at the domain extension (URL address ending). Is it commercial (com), which most commercially based entities have; or educational used by universities and affiliated centers (edu); or organizational (org), commonly taken by research, non-profit organizations and scientific societies; or governmental (gov), representing government bodies?
Although not decisive, this will give you the first impression of its reliability and accuracy.
- - Our next criterion relates to the ownership, financing and sponsorship of the site. Knowing who owns and sponsors it, is very important in clarifying its objectives. Sources of financing known to impact its policies, even though many claims otherwise. Except for non-profit and governmental organizations, there are usually some behind the scenes goals of sponsoring the site, which requires funds to maintain it updated and functional. This must be clearly indicated in the site itself, which often explained in the “about us” and mission sections, that must be accessible to the visitor in an unambiguous way.
- - Who supervises the editorial tasks such writing the articles, reviewing and updating the content in regular basis with date clearly mentioned? Are they working in the medical field, and do they have a relationship with a governmental or academic medical sector; or any of the non-profit civil society institutions; or relevant international organizations; or healthcare practitioners.
- - Is it easy to contact the sponsor, editor or owner of the website and communicate with them for any inquiries, complains, suggestions and correction of the content?
- - Privacy policy is legally required (advertisement policy also should be mentioned), therefore, is it clearly illustrated for visitors, their information and its use. Is the visitor granted the right to accept or reject them, and will it be sold to third parties or used for advertisement related purpose?
- - Does the site publish news, medical and health information that is exaggerated or attractive without reliable reference and sources, or official approval in order to draw the visitor's attention, and benefit from his presence for profit or other purpose?

In short, always, for evaluating the reliability of a medical website, you should think of the following:

Ownership, funding and sponsorship of the website.
Who does the editorial tasks?
Is the site being regularly updated with dates mentioned?
Who writes the content and to what field is related?
Ease of contacting the editorial, owners and sponsors of the website.
Advertisement and privacy policy clearly mentioned.
Does the site rely on publishing controversial and bubbles news and information to attracts attention?

Now, by applying all the above, I believe you will be able to be self-dependent in knowing if the published health and medical information is reliable or Not.