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WHSL Evaluating Web Sites for Health Information: Dangers of Web-Based Health Information

A brief guide showing how to evaluate web sites used to provide health information

Lack of Standards

One of the greatest problems with using the Web for health-related searches is that anyonce can, and does, publish. There is no formal system for editing information published on the Web, and there is no peer-review of information. Thus there is no control over what is published, or how accurate the information is. There is a lack of publishing standards, such as found in books and journals from reliable publishers, and because of this lack of standards, the quality of information found is often not relevant. This can be dangerous with respect to medical information, and it is easy to find misinformation which appears credible. 

This guide will assist you to evaluate web sites for health-related information using five criteria:

  • authority
  • accuracy
  • objectivity
  • currency
  • coverage

Peer-Review

The peer-review process is paramount in the quality control of scholarly journals. Peer review (also known as refereeing) is the process of subjecting an author's scholarly work, research, or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the same field. In the health sciences, peer-review may also be termed medical or clinical peer review.

Web-Based Information on the Home Management of Fever in Children

A study conducted by Impicciatore et al, 1997. (Reliability of health information for the public on the world wide web: systematic survey of advice on managing fever of children at home. BMJ, 314:1875) found that:  

  • Fever in children is a common problem, and accurate information on home management of feverish children could be useful for parents

  • A systematic search on the world wide web for such parent oriented information retrieved 41 web pages, but only four adhered closely to published guidelines for home management of childhood fever

  • These findings suggest the urgent need to check public oriented healthcare information on the internet for accuracy, completeness, and consistency

Why Evaluate?

Evaluating web sites will help you to train your mind to think critically, even suspiciously, by asking a series of questions that will help you decide how much a web page is to be trusted.