It is important for health information to come from a trusted source. The following tips and questions will help you be critical and more confident when evaluating health information sources.
WHAT information is presented?
- Information should be based on facts (objective) and easy to check (based on research evidence).
- Opinions should be clearly presented as opinions, distinguished from facts.
- Be critical and compare the information from several websites. Trustworthy information will be similar across many sources.
- Look for health information that is based on scientific research evidence or professional (medical) training and experience.
- Beware of websites promoting “nontoxic,”holistic,” or “miraculous” treatments.
- Beware of extreme statements such as “everyone should take…”, “this treatment is always effective against…” and sensational writing styles (with many exclamation points).
WHERE is the information from?
- Information based on medical research and approved by health organizations is trustworthy.
- The website should specify how information is selected and reviewed before being added to the website.
- Look for references to original research studies published in scientific journals.
- Look for information about the editorial process, selection or review policy. It should be in the “About Us” section.
- Beware when the information is based on only one study.
- Beware when the authors do not include any references.
- Beware of websites that do not describe how the information on the website is selected and validated (the editorial process is not described).
Want to know more? Check the sources.
Health information websites should describe where their information comes from (for example, scientific research published in medical journals). Here are some tools to help you follow up on the sources.
- PubMed (English): A free public database from the National Library of Medicine (USA) with millions of abstracts of published medical articles. You will be able to read the full text of some articles for free (when published in Open Access journals). For tips and video tutorials on using PubMed, click here.
- Google Scholar: An easy to use search engine like Google that searches for scholarly (scientific) publications, including articles, books, and documents. For tips on using Google Scholar, click here.
- Understanding Research (English & French): This website introduces research steps and basic concepts in health research, like research ethics, literature reviews, knowledge translation, research methods and study design (quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods). Want to know how to read a research article, watch this video tutorial (12 mins).
- CIHR Jargon Buster (English & French): Words used in health research explained in easy-to-understand language by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
WHY does the website exist? For what purpose?
- Websites may provide health information for the public or health professionals.
- Commercial companies may sponsor websites to sell products or services.
- Look for health information that is clear and easy to understand.
- Look for who funds the website. Is the website funded by public funds, donations or commercial advertising? Advertisements should be labeled as “Advertisement” or “From our Sponsor.”
- Beware if the website recommends a specific drug or treatment, which is also advertised on the website (conflict of interest).
- Beware if you are asked to buy or pay for something.
- Beware of websites that ask for your personal information. Do not share personal information until you understand why and how it will be used.
WHEN was the information published?
WHEN was the website last updated?
- Health information can change as new knowledge is discovered. It is important for health information to be current (for example, less than 2 years old).
- The website itself may be out of date and not regularly updated.
- Look for when the information was written, posted or revised.
- Look for the website update date, usually found at the bottom of the page.
- Beware if links to other sources do not work. This is another indication that the website is not maintained up to date.
These tips are developed for evaluating health information websites.
They can also help in evaluating information from social media, newspapers, and books.
Don’t forget to visit our page with tutorials on how and why to be critical about information online.
The information found on this website is for informational purposes and is not intended to replace the advice of a health professional. For your specific health care needs, consult a doctor or another health professional.