Many older adults search the Internet for health information, but it can be challenging to distinguish what’s credible. This article explores some tips for finding trustworthy information online.
Sources are credible when they offer information consistent with scientific evidence and follow standards for the creation, review and presentation of content. This includes addressing conflicts of interest and other biases.
1. Look for Credibility
Considering the volume of health information shared on social media, it is impossible for any one source to evaluate and curate every piece of content. In light of this reality, source evaluation has become a common means of identifying credible sources. While it is a worthy and necessary goal, the mere identification of credible sources does not guarantee that the information they provide will be accurate or trustworthy. Therefore, in this context it is important to focus on how sources are perceived by consumers rather than the actual quality of their health information.
When choosing a source, consider whether the information is likely to offer high-quality information and employ processes to reduce conflict of interest and promote transparency and accountability. Credibility also depends on the information itself and whether it is based on scientific research. Generally, credible sources are more likely to provide more detailed and up-to-date information than unreliable ones.
Generally, large professional or noncommercial organizations (such as government health agencies and universities) are considered to be more credible than mass media sources. However, this may be due to the fact that mass media channels are often seen as biased and have persuasive intent.
In addition, the credibility of a source can also be determined by its ability to connect with patients. In this respect, a key indicator of credibility is whether the information provided is tailored to patients’ needs and includes information that is useful and easy to understand.
If you come across health advice that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Beware of information that comes from forums or bulletin boards where anyone can dispense information. These types of sources should be viewed with suspicion unless their opinions are backed up by more reliable, objective sources.
It is important to check the ‘about us’ page of a website to determine who is running it. This will help to ensure the site has a clear purpose and is not just trying to sell you something. Additionally, the site should have a contact form so you can ask questions or give feedback.
2. Ask Questions
It’s important to ask questions when you receive health advice. It can help you get more information, challenge existing beliefs and encourage discussion. However, it’s equally important to know what questions to ask. Reliable health information comes from many sources, including government sites, condition-specific sites and support organisation sites. It also comes from medical journals, newspaper and magazine articles and ads. It’s important to remember that not all websites are equal, and some will report information that may be untrue. Some of this information may be anecdotal, meaning that it’s based on the experience of one person.
Asking questions can also help you understand whether or not your doctor cares about you. If you find that they’re always rushing you, or seem annoyed by your questions, it may be time to find a new doctor. A doctor who listens to their patients and asks questions can provide you with more reliable health advice. A recent study found that doctors asked for clarification in only 25% of consultations (Judson et al, 2013). However, this study was based on audio recordings of the consultation and didn’t include other situational variables, like eye contact or bodily comportment.
3. Check the Sources
You can find reliable health information from government-endorsed sites, peak condition-specific organisations, support organisation sites and medical journals. However, it is important to check where the information you are reading comes from and who is providing it. Look for an ‘About us’ page that explains how the content was selected and reviewed, and when it was last updated. Many health and fitness-focused magazines also have quality control measures and make it clear what is paid advertising or editorial content.
4. Talk to Your Doctor
Ultimately, the best source of health information is your doctor. Doctors are trained to talk to patients and listen to their concerns, provide advice and support. They are also able to assess your symptoms and perform physical examinations, and they can make a diagnosis based on the evidence of your case. This is something that you cannot do for yourself online or with a self-diagnosis.
In addition to making sure that you share only reliable health information with your doctor, it is important that you communicate well with them. It can be a challenge to open up and be honest, but your doctor needs to know everything that you are experiencing. Otherwise, they can’t help you.
Be clear and concise about your symptoms, including when they began, how long they last, what makes them better or worse, and how often they occur. Providing accurate and complete information will allow your physician to establish the best treatment plan for you.
You should also be sure to let your doctor know what else is going on in your life, including your family, work, and social commitments. This allows your doctor to consider other factors that might be contributing to your health problems, such as stress or a lack of sleep.
When your doctor talks to you about your symptoms and suggests treatments, ask questions and be assertive if you don’t understand what they mean. Repeating back to your doctor what they said can help you understand it better, and it will also let them know that you are listening and understanding.
You can also ask your doctor to recommend other sources of health information for you, such as websites or books. When choosing a book to read, check that the author is an expert in the subject and that the content is backed up by research. Also, look at the ‘About Us’ page to see who runs the book – it might be a government-endorsed health website (such as Better Health Channel), a peak industry body (such as the Australian Medical Association) or an organisation that specialises in the condition (such as beyondblue). Then, you can be confident that the content is authoritative.