In the past, patients with health issues would consult their home health manual before scheduling an appointment with a doctor to follow up on any concerns. But in these days of mobile internet and difficult-to-reach primary care, our first inclination is typically to turn to the internet for information.
Finding trustworthy health information online can be challenging because false material abounds on websites and social media. You can find anything online in five minutes, from blogs asserting that lemons can treat cancer (they can’t), to social media messages from distant relatives asserting that using a cell phone could result in a brain hemorrhage (they can’t).
Misinformation can take many different forms, including:
- Websites (especially with sensational, clickbait-style headlines)
- Quotations and videos that have been edited to change their meaning
- Misleading graphs or diagrams, using statistics that are presented out of context
- Old images that are being recirculated
Any website can appear as trustworthy as a well-researched page like Health Canada, WebMD, or the Mayo Clinic with a decent logo, a good stock photo, and a few links. Because of this, it’s crucial to seek a second opinion on any health information you see online. And, always remember: don’t share if unsure!
Here are some tips to assist you be sure the material you’re reading is accurate health information rather than false information.
Consider the source
Sometimes all it takes to stop you from sharing false information is to just pause and ask yourself if the information appears credible. Before you decide to take something you read online seriously, consider whether it is coming from a reliable, trustworthy source.
Search the website’s “About” page for any potential conflicts of interest or biases. Verify whether the article has citations for the studies it refers to and whether the website contains links to credible organizations and authorities. The article’s (and the accompanying research’s) publication date should be current because health knowledge changes quickly.
Get a second opinion
It’s always worth checking a claim. See what results appear after entering the information you’ve discovered into a search engine. Do the articles you read after clicking the links support the first claim or not? Ideally, you want at least one other trustworthy source to confirm the information. Use Google Image Search to find the original publication source of any frightening images you come across online and see whether it matches.
Watch out for absolutes
The article you are reading should acknowledge the fact that health information is rarely black and white. Websites that frequently utilize the words “always” or “never” should be avoided since they indicate a prejudiced viewpoint and a lack of context.
The “too good to be true” test
Always fact-check claims regarding quick remedies and miracle cures because, as the saying goes, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Be cautious because most of these websites are out to sell you something.
More tips against health misinformation at 5 ways to protect yourself from health misinformation (yourdoctors.ca)
Image by Freepik