Evaluating health information on the web

(First published 10/26/09)

Sam often asks me to sit with him as he does his homework with his online classes. He is taking Introduction to the Internet, and as Sam says after completing every lesson, “I learn something every day in that class.” It’s been fruitful for me, too.

A special section of his textbook discusses health and fitness websites. Many people go to find information there, but few have shown either the inclination or the skills to check out the robustness of those sites.

If you are a parent of a child with autism looking for more information on the web, here is your $100-tip-of-the-day, straight from Sam: look for accreditation.

The Medical Library Association publishes the Top 100 medical websites through CAPHIS, Consumer and Patient Health Information Section. These folks are serious about hunting up quality information: researchers and professionals often depend on them to ferret it out.

Two other nonprofit groups offer the health equivalent of a Good Housekeeping seal of approval – URAC, Utilization Review Accreditation Commission and HON, Health On the Net Foundation. Look for those seals to see whether the website has been independently reviewed for the quality of its information.

And here’s my tip to continue the chase, based on years of investigative journalism:

If you’re a fan of a particular website and its information, and it doesn’t appear on CAPHIS Top 100 and it doesn’t have the accreditation, you can use your own critical thinking skills to evaluate the information. Some things to watch out for: sponsors and ads on the site, attribution of claims made, authority and credentials of those in charge of the content.

If red flags are flying in your head, then run its content through this little rubric:


Quackwatch is one of CAPHIS’ Top 100 sites and can let you know whether you’re seeing some bad science.

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