Evaluating Health & Medical Sources

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Tips to Finding
Quality Information
on the Internet

  • Isolate the key concepts and words to be searched, including word variations and synonyms
  • Determine the type of information needed (general or technical information? Adult audience or children/adolescents?)
  • Use a search engine like Google http://www.google.com/ and Yahoo http://www.yahoo.com or take advantage of established, pre-selected Internet collections like C.O.D’s Health Sciences & Nursing research guides http://codlrc.org/research or MEDLINEplus http://www.medlineplus.gov/
  • Carefully evaluate the credibility of the source and the quality of the information retrieved
  • For evaluation tips and information, see below

Evaluating Electronic & Print Medical Information

Information based on: http://nlc.nebraska.gov/ref/star/chapter9b.aspx

The Internet has become a popular outlet for finding medical information. Many consumers consult the Web first for their medical information needs. Although the Web does offer a wide variety of valuable information, [researchers] must exercise caution because the Web contains many unreliable sites as well. Whether utilizing a print resource (like a book or journal article) or an electronic source like an article on a Web site, researchers should always take the time to critically analyze the source for credibility.  Emphasis should be put on evaluating the following areas:

Authorship/Authority: Is the site maintained by a credible organization, physician, or university? Is it by an individual with a disease or disorder who is putting up his/her personal experiences? Although on a support level, the latter might be useful to a consumer, the former would be more likely to give out objective and accurate information.

Bias: Is the site objective, or is it trying to sell products that will ease the woes of the consumer's condition? Again checking authorship might be essential here, as a drug company might take a different outlook on a disease than a non profit organization would. Having a philosophical or bio-ethical viewpoint does not negate the validity of a site, but rather can foster debate and examination of issues. However, it is preferable that a site should clearly represent its persuasion.

Content/Scope: What type of information is contained in the site? Is it annotated and is it comprehensive or does it cover a specific area of a topic? The reference interview will help you determine if the client’s needs are better suited by a comprehensive overview or a more tailored content site.

Currency: How current is the Web site? Does it give a "last updated" message? If not, it is questionable how timely the site is. Perhaps they have put up the site and never maintained it.

Ease of Use: Is the Web site easy to navigate? Do the links work and is the site designed so as to have self-explanatory categories? Are the graphics too large or cumbersome and does the site load quickly or slowly? Many people get annoyed and impatient with sites that take too long to load or have dead links. This is an important consideration.

Level: Is the site intended for professionals or consumers? What is the reading level of the material? Is it intended for adults or children?

Purpose: What does the site intend to do? Give objective facts and information, sell something, or persuade?

Reliability/Accuracy: Does the site include references to back up its claims?

Uniqueness: Does what the site offers have certain value? Does it contain material that either cannot be found elsewhere or presents it in a better way than other sources?