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Internet Health Literacy

Health Literacy refers to the skills of obtaining, processing, evaluating and using health information.2 Finding credible information is an important part of making health decisions that you can feel good about. The Internet is a great resource and has become a key source for health information. While accurate and helpful health information can be found online, so too can bad information that may cause harm. When looking for health information online, keep in mind that the Internet is not regulated - anyone can set up a website.

Questions to ask yourself

So, how do you know if the information you are looking at on the internet is credible? The following are some key questions to ask yourself to be sure you can trust the information in front of you. The questions are based on principles developed internationally by the Health on the Net Foundation called: The HON Code of Conduct for medical and health web sites (HONcode):

  1. Is there an author clearly identified and is his/her training in the field mentioned?
  2. Is there a statement clearly declaring that the information on the website is meant to support, not replace, the advice of a health professional?
  3. Does the site describe its privacy policy regarding how it treats confidential, private or semi-private information (such as any email addresses it collects, and the content of emails received from or sent to you)?
  4. Does all content (page or article) have a specific date of creation and a last revision date? Is the information provided supported by evidence? Is the information sourced and/or is the evidence referenced and easily accessible for you to review on or from the webpage?
  5. Is all information, about the benefits or performance of any treatment, commercial product or service, backed up with scientific evidence (medical journals, reports or others)?
  6. Is there a way to contact the editor, such as a working email address or contact form, for visitors who would like to have more details or support? Is this contact easy to access from anywhere on the site? Do you receive an individual and prompt answer to any questions?
  7. Does the site include a statement clearly declaring all its sources of funding? This applies to all sites, including personal sites with no external sources of funds, sites funded by donations and sites funded by government agencies, pharmaceutical companies or other commercial entities. Are all conflicts of interest declared?
  8. Is the advertising policy clearly stated? Are all advertisements clearly indicated and easily identifiable as such and clearly separated and distinguishable from the editorial content? Is all advertising (including, but not limited to, pop-up windows and banners) identified with the word "Advertising" or similar  to clearly identify the sponsor?

The answer to each of the above questions should be “Yes”. If there are any questions to which you answered “No", be cautious about trusting the information that is provided on the website. 

Talk your healthcare provider about the health information you find on websites. You may want to bring a copy of the information with you to discuss it and get answers to any questions you may have.

In addition, if you are pregnant and searching for information about feeding your baby, it’s important to consider learning more about the World Health Organization’s Baby-Friendly Initiative. Pregnant women and families are vulnerable to advertising tactics that may not be in their best interests. The Baby-Friendly Initiative acknowledges that breastfeeding is the healthiest choice for mothers and infants, and that families need to be supported to make informed feeding decisions without the influence of formula marketing.

 
Date of creation: February 17, 2015
Last modified on: April 23, 2019
 
 

References

1Health on the Net Foundation. (2017 May 2) The HON Code of Conduct for medical and health Web sites (HONcode) Retrieved from
https://www.healthonnet.org/HONcode/Conduct.html
2Diviani, N., Van den Putte, B., Giani, S., & Van Weert, J. C. (2015 may 7). Low Health Literacy and Evaluation of Online Health Information: A Systematic Review of the Literature, 17(5), e112, 1-32. Retrieved from
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4468598/