Finding Reliable Health Information Online

Finding Reliable Health Information Online

By Semko, Laura 
March 21, 2017
October 2014

Finding Reliable Health Information Online

The Internet can be a treasure trove of health information. But how much of it can you trust? A recent study suggests it may depend on what you are searching for. Being a savvy online user can help you find credible content.

Woman reading an electronic tablet

Internet issues

More Americans are turning to the Internet for health advice. In fact, more than 60% of adults have searched online for such information. They may be looking for themselves. Or they may be seeking reliable answers for a child or older adult.

Search engines, such as Google, are a popular choice. But they may not always be the best starting point. In one recent study, researchers Googled more than 2,000 health-related terms. Their key words came from those listed on MedlinePlus. That’s the National Library of Medicine’s website.

After each key-word search, the researchers assessed the first page of results—minus any ads. They found a curious discrepancy. The results were of higher quality if the key words were more disease specific. Namely, disorders, conditions, and treatments. But lower-quality websites—like blogs—were more likely to pop up for general health and wellness topics. These included family issues and nutrition.

Online search tips

The Internet is full of misinformation. To help you more easily find quality health content, follow these tips.

  • Look at the website’s source. Go first to sites sponsored by the U.S. government, universities, and professional organizations, such as the American Heart Association. Web addresses for these types of sites usually end in .gov, .edu, and .org. The National Institutes of Health is a good place to start a search. So, too, are health portals from a trusted hospital or health care plan.

  • Make sure the content is current. Health care can change quickly. Reputable websites will often include a last reviewed date on the page. Information that is more than 1 year old may still be valid. But it’s best to check with several other sites and your doctor.

  • Beware of sites that are trying to sell you something. Such content may not be accurate. Check the About Us page to learn more about the organization or website. Avoid those that don’t readily share contact information.

  • Look for the Health on the Net (HON) logo. The HON Foundation is a nonprofit organization that certifies the quality of health content you may find online. Website publishers can display the HON logo if they meet certain qualifications. For instance, they must accurately cite sources and protect user privacy. Note that not all quality sites use the HON logo.

  • Talk with your doctor. The Internet shouldn’t be your only source of health information. Even quality websites may lack detailed, up-to-date content on treatments and conditions.  Your doctor can help you decide the best way to deal with an illness or health problem.

 You owe it to yourself to be smart about your health. Read this article to become more involved in your health care.

Online resources

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

Health on the Net Foundation


March 21, 2017


How Reliable Are ‘Reputable Sources’ for Medical Information on the Internet? The Case of Hormonal Therapy to Treat Prostate Cancer. Ogah I, Wassersug RJ. Urologic Oncology. 2013;31(8):1546-52., Internet Health Information Seeking Is a Team Sport: Analysis of the Pew Internet Survey. R.S. Sadasivam, et al. International Journal of Medical Informatics. 2013;82(3):193-200., Quality of Health-Related Online Search Results. B. Kitchens, C. Harle, and Shengli Li. Decision Support Systems. 2014;57:454-62.

Reviewed By:  

Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN