EVALUATING WEBSITES FOR CONSUMER HEALTH INFORMATION
The Internet has a lot to offer, but not all sources of consumer health information are reliable, easy to use, and worth the effort to locate. The following are points to consider when evaluating Internet and World Wide Web sites for consumer health information.
- Content and Scope of the Site
- Who is the intended audience for the information? Some medical sites want to be everything to all people while others have a very narrow focus.
- What is the purpose of the site? Is it a commerical site whose goal is to eventually sell you something? Not all commercial sites sell products or are necessarily “bad”.
- Is the information unbiased or is the originator of the information attempting to sway your opinion on a specific topic? Be wary about information with too narrow a focus.
- Is the site unique? Does it offer information not available elsewhere or is the information readily available in print sources which are more authoritative, better organized and easy to read? Don’t be fooled into believing that information provided by a computer always equals quality and convenience.
- Who is responsible for the information?
- Are credentials given for person(s) in charge of the site? Is the person a physician, a researcher, someone with a personal interest in the topic, but not necessarily someone with a medical background?
- If the site is produced by a consumer organization or professional health association, is there an individual or group of individuals with medical expertise serving as consultants or advisors?
- Is an idividual’s name and e-mail address given so that you can ask questions about the site?
- Do external links lead to sources that meet the above criteria for authoritative information?
- Is the information revised and updated regularly? Are individual articles signed and dated?
- Is it clear what dates on pages mean? Dates can mean when the information was first written, first included on the site, or last revised.
- Are external links to sites that are updated frequently?
- Ease of use
- Are menus arranged logically?
- Is the entire site searchable? If the website is large, this is an absolute must.
- Is there a good balance of internal and external links?
- Is the site easy to navigate? Are the function buttons easy to find and clear about their purpose?
- Attractive Appearance
- Is the site visually appealing?
- Are graphics used judiciously? Do the graphics have a purpose or are they just there for show? Remember glitz does not equal quality.
- Are colors used for emphasis and to make the site easy to navigate?
- Lack of glitz and glamour doesn’t necessarily mean lack of substance. Some of the government sites still have very good information in plain ASCII text.
Remember – the Internet is another information tool and not a substitute for standard print medical sources.
For more detailed information on evaluating Internet sites, visit the following: