Five tips for determining whether a health-related website is trustworthy




Paging Dr. Google.  You know you’ve done it.  You have a symptom, you hit the web, and you find yourself faced with a myriad of possible diagnoses and possible solutions.  Suddenly that headache is a potential brain tumor, multiple sclerosis, or the result of too many pesticides in your food.  The internet is an amazing tool, but it is also daunting and even dangerous — particularly when it becomes a primary source of medical and health information.

It is estimated that 75-80% of Americans use the Internet to obtain health information. It has been shown that of those who  use the web to visit online health sites, more than 50% of believe that most health information found online is credible.  But, of course, anyone who has looked at the web knows, there is a lot of misinformation out there.  So, how can you be sure the information you find on health-related websites is accurate?  Here are five key tips:

1. Look for “.gov” or websites run by government agencies

Websites run by the federal government are some of the most reliable because the information is written and reviewed by professionals and is generally not sponsored by any for-profit companies, such as pharmaceutical companies.  The website “” is particularly helpful — it is a search engine that links to over 1500 reliable health websites.

2.  Look for “.edu” or affiliation with a university 

Like government run websites, most institutions of higher learning have accurate information that is not sponsored by for-profit companies. This means that the information you are reading is less likely to be biased or intended to sell something.

3. Avoid sites that want to sell you something

Watch out for websites that offer a quick solution in the form of a product or pill.  Many health-related websites have articles about a particular ailment with links to a vitamin, procedure, or pill built into the article.  The authors clearly have an incentive to sell their products and the advice may be less than trustworthy.

4. Be careful of agendas

Its important to consider whether a particular organization has an agenda that is framing the way certain health issues are discussed.  For instance, many vaccine-related websites are run by groups or individuals that opposed vaccination.  The information on these sites is usually very biased, presenting only one side of the story (vaccines are bad) and failing to give any information that is pro-vaccine.  If the information seems biased, it probably is, and you should proceed with caution.

5. Ask your doctor

Having a conversation with your doctor may be the best way to determine which sites you can trust.  Ask your doctor what websites she uses, which ones to avoid, and how to determine the reliability of a website.

Follow these tips, and you will be  savvy and confident in using health-related websites.  For more information, check out:




5 thoughts on “Five tips for determining whether a health-related website is trustworthy

  1. Thanks Amanda. You have started to answer the question that was bothering me on my post; how to know you are getting reliable information. I think it is interesting your first 4 tips would eliminate such popular sites as WebMD and Mayo Clinic. Looks like Dr. Oz would not be in so much trouble right now if he had followed your advice. I would like to see others share similar insights.

  2. Hi Randall. I think I should clarify to say that you have yo look at the authors for a given site. Mayo clinic is an educational institution even though it’s not an .edu. Webmd has a set of editorial staff that are all medical professionals, including board certified specialists. While this is not an absolute guarantee, it’s reasonable to conclude that a pediatrician would be more reliable on pediatric issues than, say, a self-educated naturopath or business person. I think the link at the bottom of my post is really helpful in finding reliable sites.

  3. Hi Amanda!

    Great post and great information. I have totally went the webMD way numerous times and most recently last week. This would have been really helpful on Tuesday as I was having an allergic reaction to something and the possibilities ran from Crohn’s disease to allergies….luckily it was just allergies. After going to the site I was freaked out but I had some comfort in knowing what it could be and be able to discuss it with my physician when I met with them so there were not any surprises to the diagnosis. Thanks for deciphering which sites are most reliable and I will definitely keep the points you made in mind next time I try to self diagnose.

  4. Randall, this was enjoyable to read. Very informative. I had not thought about it, but I use most of the skills that you presented. I specifically use 1 and 2 on a routine basis for the very reasons that you stated. Thanks!

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