The Internet opens the door to medical advice on a
plethora of topics. While this 24-hour access to information is convenient, surfers must guard against
false, tainted or misleading data. Web sites are not always edited with the same care as print publications.
As a result, researchers must critically evaluate
the authority of a site's authors and the information it provides.
How do you sort the good from the bad? At QuackWatch.com,
Dr. Stephen Barrett plays the role of Internet skeptic. "Judging the quality of legitimate sites can
only be done by experts, and it is difficult to give a specific list of criteria to evaluate content,"
Barrett says. "But we try to help Web surfers by listing a large number of sites that we as physicians
have evaluated and consider reliable."
The University of California Los Angeles provides a helpful tutorial on spotting tainted information or
advice given to benefit a particular company or organization.
Thinking Critically about
Discipline-Based World Wide Web Resources advises
information-seekers to consider the list of sources the site is based on - are they all Web sites or are
some print-based? What is the date of the information? Medical information can change quickly.
UCLA also suggests users be wary of information that is presented as scholarly work, but combined
with a commercial product.
Health Finder is a government-sponsored
site that also provides valuable tips. Check out the "Criteria for Assessing the Quality of Health Information
on the Internet," "10 Things to Know about Evaluating Medical Resources on the Web" and "The Emergence
of Interactive Health Communication."
Armed with this advice, explore some of the leading medical sites:
The site's content is written by medical journalists who have passed a competency test.
Has a strong focus on chronic illnesses like cancer. Visitors can refer to the "Site Services" section to
discover which advertisers are involved with the site.
Features a drug resource center, a medical dictionary and Ask the Doc section. It does allow advertisers
like The Vitamin Shoppe to buy banner space. A small flag running along the side of the banner categorizes
it as an advertisement.
The Mayo Clinic
Prides itself on updating the site as often as five times a week. It, too, has banner advertising. An
advertising disclaimer is displayed directly below the banner.