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Interactive Health Communications Icon  Web Site Evaluation Drill

Read first: About this exercise

Millions of people are "surfing" the Web or logging on to online services looking for information about a health condition. But not all health information is created equal. Promotions of bogus medications and medical devices abound. Information on a Web site doesn't mean it's any more reliable than something you read in a tabloid or hear on a talk show. MEDLINE abstracts on quackery and unreliable health information illustrates this point. However, there are things that you can do to learn how to judge the quality of  online health information. This exercise is designed to help you think through and determine if a Web site is providing trustworthy health information and support for you, a family member, or friend.

Please select a health-related Web site that you would like to evaluate and answer the questions below:

Name of Web site:  


  1. The decisions you make based on information from this site may have an effect on your health, or your family's.  Do you think information on the Internet can mislead you?

    NO   YES

    Please explain:

  2. Do you have any reservations or questions about evaluating the quality of this site? 

    NO   YES

    If yes, what are they? 


  3. Sometimes an innocent error, misunderstanding, or a faulty self-diagnosis can lead to unnecessary treatment or an unwise delay in proper treatment.  Please describe the worst that might happen or has happened to you or your family as a consequence of following bad information offered on a health Web site?

  4. Is there a commercial or "sales" pitch coming from group members or sponsors of the site? Do you think that the commercial aspects of this Web site influence the ideas that are presented?

  5. Do you recall who the owner or sponsor was of this site?

  6. If you answered I don't recall or the identity is not disclosed, you may want to find out to decide if this information comes from a reliable source or unknown organization.  Do you trust the sponsor? If offered, would you use the non-Internet services of this institution?
  7. YES    NO   NOT SURE

  8. It is important to know if appropriate health professionals were involved in putting the site together. You need to judge whether those involved are suitable to give advice. Are the credentials and affiliations of people who developed this site appropriate?
  9. Some sites may provide more detailed and focused information than others. What type of information is typically offered on this site?

  10. If you obtained advice from this site, was it helpful or did you have to search for more information? 

  11. Often advice provided on a Web site is based on reliable and peer-reviewed journals, authorities, or the developer's personal experiences. What would you trust more, advice and material that is based on multiple sources or from a single author?

  12. If the site is interactive, and you're asked to provide information in order to get answers to medical questions, what proof do you have that your information will be kept private?

  13. Do the answers you receive seem tailored to your personal needs and questions?


  14. Information, even the most accurate common sense information, changes constantly. A site that is not updated regularly will soon be giving you poor advice. How up-to-date is the site?

  15. Are you interested in finding people to talk to on this Web site?

    (If no, skip to question 20)

  16. Sometimes people who visit the site may not share your experiences and their advice may not be of value to you. One way bad ideas get sorted out in a group discussion is by the active participation of people with different experiences and backgrounds. Do you think that when ideas get expressed in this site, the group allows for different views and actively discusses all ideas?

  17. Is this a disease-oriented discussion group?

    YES    NO

  18. Is the discussion moderated by a doctor, a nurse or other qualified clinicians?

  19. You can get a sense of how much support people receive at this site by examining how they treat each other. Do they go out of their way to understand and accommodate each other?

    YES    NO

  20. Does having support available to you matter?

    This is the bottom-line test!

    Were you able to find the topics you needed?
    Was the information provided easy to understand?
    Would you trust the advice offered on this site?

  21. Did the information provided on this Web site help answer your questions?

A few last words...

Users can help improve the quality of the health information available online by demanding it.  Make a habit of e-mailing to the site operators (the address is typically a link at the bottom of the first page) to ask:
  1. who prepares their material,
  2. how current it is, and
  3. if they can provide documentation of the sources of their facts and advice.

Finally, ask if they have ever had their site independently evaluated for accuracy and usefulness, and ask to see the results.

We hope this exercise has been helpful to you.  
Select the submit below to review and print your responses! 


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Source: The Science Panel on Interactive Communication and Health, March 1998

Comments:   Updated: 05/20/08