Deciphering Fact from Fiction: How to Decide Which Health Articles to Trust
Misinformation and its Consequences
In this day and age, medical information is at the tips of our fingers. Countless search engines, social media platforms, and news outlets exist, constantly disseminating health information to the general public. While the immense volume of health content may be convenient and useful, not all of the information online is credible.
This phenomenon has been incredibly damaging to society and the medical community, representing a major public health concern. Misinformation leads individuals to believe that official sources of information are not credible, causing emotions like confusion and distrust. This creates an enormous divide between the layperson and medical community, as those inundated with misinformation no longer feel they can trust their providers. Individuals may stop seeking expert advice from healthcare providers, may avoid treatment, and may make decisions damaging to their health.
How to Find Credible Information
Knowing the amount of false information that is out there, it is important that you are equipped with the tools needed to decipher fact from fiction. Below is a list of the best practices when determining whether or not a source is credible:
- Determine who hosts the website. Every website has an owner that is funding the content that is being posted. Sometimes, you can use context clues from the website URL to figure out whether or not this source is trustworthy. For example, a URL ending in:
- .gov indicates the website is run by a United States government agency
- .edu indicates the website is run by an educational institution
- .org indicates the website is run by a non-profit organization, such as a scientific or medical research society
- .com indicates the website is run by a commercial organization, such as a business or hospital
- Check out the author. If listed, analyze the education and background of the writer. Any information they provide expertise on should be supported by their credentials. Are they experts in the field? Are they part of an organization? If so, what are the goals and missions of the organization that they represent? Do they have any financial interest in the kinds of information that they are posting about?
- Find the date the information was posted. The medical landscape is constantly changing, and new research is surfacing every single day. While older information is not obsolete, any health decisions should be made with the most current, evidence-based research.
- Ask yourself, what is this website’s goal? Many websites are established to promote a product or service. If that is the case, the information included in the site may be biased and inaccurate in order to promote a product and boost sales.
- Figure out if the article contains references. A credible source will always provide the research, data, and articles that support the information provided. Medical content should always be based on scientific evidence and not personal opinion.
When in doubt, always refer to your healthcare provider for health-related questions and issues. No major medical decisions should be based on information you read online. When you do seek health information, however, use the above toolbox to analyze a website’s credibility.
- Medical misinformation – duke center for healthcare safety and quality. (n.d.). Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://www.hsq.dukehealth.org/medmis/
- Sylvia Chou, W.-Y., Gaysynsky, A., & Cappella, J. N. (2020). Where we go from here: Health misinformation on social media. American Journal of Public Health, 110(Suppl 3), S273–S275. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2020.305905
- Online health information: Is it reliable? (n.d.). National Institute on Aging. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/online-health-information-it-reliable