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Reliability of Information

When looking for information about health and healthcare online, it is important to assess its reliability and accuracy.

Tips for assessing information on health websites

  • Always look for The Information Standard mark. Any organisation achieving The Information Standard has undergone a rigorous assessment to check that the information they produce is clear, accurate, balanced, evidence-based and up-to-date. It helps the public to identify reliable sources of quality, evidence-based information.
  • Health gateway sites signpost you on to other websites usually tell you how they made the decisions and assessed the quality of the sites (selection criteria). It is best to look at these criteria and then decide if you agree with how they have done this.
  • Look for sites produced, developed or backed by organisations that you know are reputable, such as government departments (for example the Department of Health, the Department of Work and Pensions), independent charities, consumer groups or support groups.
  • Look for sites adhering to guidelines such as the Health on the Net Foundation's HON Code of Conduct.
  • Be cautious of sites that advertise products only available through them, or who present undocumented medical studies to support claims. Always look for the qualifications and affiliations of the page's authors or authors.
  • Look to see whether the page tells you when it was created and most recently updated.
  • The European Commission published a policy paper on quality criteria for health websites in December 2002.

The following sites also offer useful advice on assessing patient information, whether online or in printed form:

  • DISCERN is a brief questionnaire that provides users with a valid and reliable way of assessing the quality of written information on treatment choices for a health problem.
  • Internet for Medicine is an online tutorial that includes sections on searching the internet effectively and assessing the sites you find.

How do I know what information I can trust?

If you want to find out more about a diagnosis you have been given or if you are worries about a medical problem, consult your doctor. S/he will be able to give you advice about your condition and should be able to suggest sources of further information to help you find out more.

The number of health-related sites on the internet is growing rapidly. Unfortunately, the levels of accuracy and clarity of the information provided can vary greatly.

We have listed some national websites where you can find further information from reputable sources. However the College is not able to take responsibility for the accuracy of the information produced by other organisations.

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