Paying another visit to Dr. Google? Consider these tips
When your child isn’t well, it’s completely natural to look for solutions, answers and reassurance promptly. The Internet is often the go-to destination for finding that info.
While searching to see if your child’s sniffles match the symptoms of the cold or of the flu, wandering the web can fuel a sort of Internet-enabled hypochondria. Just because health information found online is accessible, doesn’t mean it is credible, reliable, unbiased or up-to-date.
The following tips can help you rule out websites as sources of misinformation, but remember that nothing can replace the counsel of an experienced health professional. Always discuss your health decisions with your family’s health care provider.
Check the sources of the information you consult online
Trustworthy health information should be unbiased and based on scientific evidence.
There are many health-related discussion forums or boards where people share their personal experiences, opinions or stories. Make sure you don’t follow the advice of these sources without first talking with your child’s doctor. Also, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the website from a well, known reputable organization or leader? A reputable website should clearly state its mission and purpose. It should be designed to inform users, not to sell a product or persuade users to adopt a given viewpoint.
- Who is responsible for the content of the website? Look for an “About us” or “Contact us” link to find out more about the organization.
- Who funds the website? Be aware that some sites are funded by medical or pharmaceutical companies. Advertising should be clearly separate from health information. Even if the site isn’t selling a product, it might be sponsored by companies that can benefit from the advice on the site.
Consider the quality of the information found on the site
- Does the site look professional in its design and content?
- Is the site free from grammatical and spelling errors?
- Is the information complete and comprehensive?
Look at the evidence
- Does the information include different points of view?
- Is the information based on solid scientific research? Or is it an opinion only?
- Are references and links provided to support the information and what is the strength of the evidence?
Is the information timely?
- Is new information posted on a regular basis? Good websites date their content.
- Are the links working on the site? Lots of broken links suggests it is an old site.
Be a cybersceptic
Stay away from advice-based sources of information and always opt for recent evidence-based sources. The best sources of health information are those that have been recommended by your health professional and have been reviewed by other experts in the field (also know as peer-reviewed material).
It is always best to speak to your child’s doctor about any health information you consult online, and the advice of your health care professional should always be followed over the advice of a website.
Visit the Canadian Paediatric Society website to read “A parent’s guide to health information on the Internet”