Can You Trust the Internet?

The Internet has made it easy to find information from the comfort of our homes. This is especially true regarding health information online. Unfortunately, there is often a problem with the accuracy of information found online. While it is relatively easy to start a website and share your ideas or opinions online, having someting posted online does not mean that the information is any more accurate. So if you find yourself googling your cough or fever, there are some steps that you can take to help ensure the information you find online is credible.

Remember your AABCD’s

While looking for health information online, whether it is information on your symptoms, a new superfood or the health hazard of your favourite deodorant, remember your AABCD’s: Accurate, Authority, Bias, Current, Doctor.

  1. Is the author and Authority on the subject?
  2. How Accurate is the information?
  3. Is there Bias in the information?
  4. How Current is the information?
  5. If in doubt, ask a Doctor!

Step by Step process for evaluating Health Information Online

To the right is an image from a website promoting something called “Gallstone flushing”.

This article will serve as an example on how to evaluate a webpage for accurate information.

1. Is the author an Authority on the subject?

The author who writes an article is as important as the information in the article. Many health professionals (Naturopathic Doctors, Medical Doctors, Pharmacists, Registered Dieticians, etc) post information online, but many bloggers are not health professionals. In fact, many have no training health care.  Health professionals have training in their fields, and they also have the experience and knowledge to discern fact from fiction. It is important to remember that a health professional may not know everything either. For instance, a Naturopathic Doctor is an expert on medical herb and drug interactions, and a Surgeon would be an expert on heart surgeries. Who you would go to for advice depends on what you’d like to know.

The author of this article has a PhD in Parapsychic sciences and is an acupuncturist.  While acupuncturists are health professionals, parapsychic scientists are not.

2. How Accurate is the information?

The first step is to determine if the information is accurate. When you come across an article, look to see if there are any resources or references that you can check. Ideally they should not be links to other blogs, but rather a credible source like a health organization or research study. If there is a list of resources, look at them. Often Wikipedia or other blogs are used as sources of information, and may not always be accurate.

In this case, there were four references to other blogs, none of which are either research articles or maintained by health organizations.

3. Is there a Bias to the information?

Does the author work for pharmaceutical, supplement or health care company? Is the author selling anything? Does the “About us” page indicate a bias? Is the article an advertisement? If you can answer yes, the information may be biased and it is worth reading with caution.

Here is an exert from the “About Us”:

“The site strongly criticizes drugs-and-surgery medicine, vaccines, corporate corruption, animal testing, the use of humans for medical experiments, the chemical contamination of foods, heavy metals in consumer products, factory farming and government corruption. [the website] also warns its readers about science gone bad and frequently cites examples of science resulting in catastrophies that it calls “crimes” against humanity.”

Based on the description of the website, I would not advise anyone to follow the suggestions found on the website.

4. How Information Current?

Found something interesting related to your health concern? Great. Was it published in 1996? Not so great. Medical sciences advance every year, and what was thought to be accurate 20 years ago, may no longer be seen as true. If you find something interesting, but it is dated, keep looking to see if you can find something more current.

This article was written in 2011, which is not too long ago. However, given that there are no reliable resources, the author is not an expert, and it is posted on a biased source, this article should not be considered a good source of information on gallstones.

5. If in doubt, ask a Doctor.

Go see a health professional if you found an awesome treatment, a drug, a vitamin, or therapy that you think could help you. The best way to know if what you found online is true or safe is to ask an expert like a Naturopathic Doctor. If what you found is not accurate, the professional may have an alternative that can help.

The Internet has radically changed life since it became widely used in the 1990’s. Just remember, simply because an author has something published online does not mean it is factual. If there are any doubts regarding Health information Online, particularly when it concerns natural therapies, that you’ve read online, make an appointment with an evidence based naturopathic doctor.