Evaluation of Health Information on the Web
There are six broad criteria for evaluation of health information you find on the web. They are: Credibility, Content, Disclosure, Links, Design and Interactivity. Each of the criteria is described in more depth below.
As a general rule when looking for health information, stick to reputable sites from educational institutions, government sources, and health related associations and societies.
Another good practice is to look for the HONCode Certificate symbol. The Health on the Net Foundation grants this certificate to health sites who comply with ethical and trustworthy practices.
Credibility involves consideration of information source, currency, relevancy and editorial review process.
- The source of health information is one of the most important criteria to determine its quality and credibility.
- Does the site display the name/logo of the institution or organization responsible for the information?
- Does the site display the authors name if relevant?
- Can you find the qualifications/credentials of the author?
- Personal or financial connections that present a real or potential source of bias should be disclosed.
- Disclosure of sponsorship and motivation of information provider, i.e. is the site advertising a product or service?
- The date of which the original information is based should be displayed.
- The date of posting on the web should also be displayed.
- Does the content of the site correspond to the information it claims to offer?
- Does the site have a “seal of approval” from an individual or group commonly perceived as credible?
- Sites should state if the information provided has been subject to review and if so describe the individuals and process involved.
- Content should be accurate and complete and include an appropriate disclaimer.
- The site should identify the data that underlies the conclusions presented.
- Clinical or scientific evidence should be clearly stated.
- The framework of the study should be described so the layperson can understand.
- Users must be aware that testimonials are not evidence.
- A website should have a disclaimer describing the limitations, purpose, scope, authority and currency of the information.
- Sources of information should be disclosed.
- A disclaimer should emphasize that the content is information, not medical advice. Readers should consult a health professional before making any health decisions.
- Does the information appear to be complete?
- Is the presentation of information balanced? Users should be wary of a one-sided view.
- Negative results and a statement of information not known should be included.
- Disclosure requires that a site inform users about any collection of data about them while at the site, and how that data will be used.
- A website should clearly state the purpose of the site.
- Users should be informed of any collection, use or dissemination of information associated with using the site.
- Users should be informed who is collecting what and who owns the data collected (e.g. can 3rd party participants collect data? – web servers, advertisers…)
- Links should be included so that users can verify content on the site and they should lead users to other reliable sources of information.
- Especially critical to the quality of a site are its external links that will lead readers to other authoritative sources.
- Links should be included to other appropriate sites so users can read further on a topic.
- Content of originating site is more credible if it provides links to high-quality sites
- Design does not affect the quality of the content however it can have significant effects on the delivery and use of the information.
- Is the site logically organized for easy navigation?
- Is the site focused on the purpose and target audience?
- Does the information reflect the reading level of the user?
- A good website should include a feedback mechanism for users to offer comments, corrections and raise questions.
- A website should be accountable to the users.
These criteria were originally defined in Policy Paper: Assessing the quality of health information on the internet published in 1998. Variations on the criteria have been used widely ever since.
Credit: Dalhousie University Libraries http://dal.ca.libguides.com/c.php?g=257155