What Makes a Source Credible for Health Information?

can you trust what you read on the internet?
What Makes a Source Credible: Woman Studying Books

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In this day and age, where abundant amounts of information can be found with a single click of a mouse and Dr. Google is your go-to for those mystery symptoms, it can be quite difficult to differentiate between the evidence-based information from credible sources and basic blog talk. When looking for health information online, keep in mind that the Internet is not regulated: Anyone can set up a website. And while some sites may seem thoughtful and even legitimate, some key factors can be identified that lend authority to the source.

Questions to consider 

Here are four questions to ask yourself when you’re doing internet research.

Who is the website owner? And domain suffixes

Is it clear who runs the website? When you’re looking at a website, it should clearly show which company, person, or organization is responsible for the information that is being written. This alone can help you decide if it is a reliable website with evidence-based information or if it was set up to have discussions over personal opinions. The “URL” of a website can also give you a lot of insight on whether or not the information is dependable, and some of these may be more inclined to exercise scientific rigour than others.

  • Websites with the URL .gov usually means it is government owned or sponsored.
  • Websites with the URL .edu are usually owned by a public or private school.
  • Websites with the URL .com are usually company-owned.
  • Websites with the URL .org are usually owned or sponsored by a non-profit organization.

Examine the sources cited

Does the website have evidence-based information that comes from scientific research? Especially where it concerns health-related information, the website should indicate where the information you are reading is coming from. The material may be composed from other resources or articles or it may be original (written by the people or organization that runs the site). With original content, it should be clearly indicated who wrote the article and what their credentials and experience is. Articles that are written by qualified individuals or that cite multiple evidence-based resources are usually more trustworthy. The sources cited should always be available to you so you can verify the information from the original site and/or article.

Check the date of publication and if it's peer-reviewed

Was the information peer-reviewed and is it up to date (when was it published)? Information changes every day as research is continually done and new research becomes available. For this reason, websites with reliable information must review and update their content regularly. The website you are looking at should also be consistently available, with the date of the latest revision clearly posted. You can often find a statement at the bottom of a page as to when the content of a site was last reviewed and updated.

Contact information

Is there contact information available on the website for questions or feedback? Reliable websites always provide contact information so you can get in touch with them if you have any questions or feedback concerning their information.

Even if you find information that is helpful, seems reliable, and resonates with you, it’s a good idea to talk about it with a trained professional whether it is a health matter, nutrition matter, or budget matter before making any big decisions. The biggest benefit of so much accessible information is that you can arm yourself with valuable questions for your trusted services in person.

More information can be found here.

*Originally published December 3, 2016