Finding high-quality health information on the internet

It's not easy to find good health information on the internet. Read about the features of high-quality health information and the warning signs of bad health information. We have also put together a list of reliable health information sites that could serve as a starting point for internet searches.

What do you need to know when you use a search engine?

  • The ranking of the search results doesn’t tell us anything about the quality or reliability of the information.
  • Look at more than just the first ten hits.
  • The first few hits are often purchased advertisements.
  • Find out who has produced the information and what the intentions of the website providing it are.

TIP: See how other organizations rate the website. You could, for example, search for the name of the website together with the words “evaluation” or “review” as your search terms.

Be cautious if

  • the website talks about curing serious diseases.
  • the terms “mainstream medicine” or “Western medicine” are used negatively, and are contrasted with “holistic” or “natural” medicine.
  • ads for products related to the information appear next to it.
  • products are sold directly on the website or indirectly through linked online shop pages.

What do you need to know about online forums?

  • Internet forums provide a platform for sharing, but they are not a reliable source of information.  Their contents are based on subjective, individual experiences and opinions. They are not checked for correctness or quality.
  • Some users may pretend to be patients in order to secretly advertise for particular products.

How can I find high-quality health information on the internet?

It's not easy to tell good health information from the bad.

It can be helpful to have a selection of websites that you can go to for reliable health information. You could start your search on one of these pages, for example:

TIP: Save the sites in your browser (e.g. Safari, Firefox or Chrome) using bookmarks or favorites.

If you can’t find an answer to your question on those sites, run a search using a search engine like Google or Bing.

You could also use the comments box to ask the editor of the site directly. That way, the authors of the information can find out what topics visitors want to read about and what information is missing.

How can I evaluate a website on my own?

Who operates and funds the site?
  • You can usually find this out on a “Contact” or “About us” page, or in the publishing details.
  • Dependencies or financial advantages for the operators (which may be hidden) can be problematic.
  • Good websites provide the names of the operators and the authors, together with their qualifications, as well as the website’s source of funding. 
Do they list their motivation and objectives?
  • Be cautious if products or services are promoted or marketed directly, and if that is how the website is funded.
  • Be skeptical if you are pushed towards making a specific decision, if the site uses scare tactics, or if they take extreme positions.
  • Online health information can never replace a face-to-face consultation with a doctor. High-quality websites will point that out.

High-quality information can be used to supplement – but not replace – talks with specialists. Don’t try to self-diagnose, and discuss the treatment options with a doctor.

Checklist: High-quality websites ...

Language
  • provide the information with objective and neutral wording.
  • explain medical terminology.
  • avoid ideological terms such as “mainstream medicine,” “holistic medicine,” or “natural medicine.”
Methods
used for producing the information
  • clearly describe their methods and processes for creating the health information.
  • also invite patients and medical experts to be involved in the production of the articles.
Contents
  • describe how the treatments work and what kinds of results are possible.
  • explain what happens if the medical condition is left untreated.
  • describe all of the main treatment options.
  • list the side effects.
  • describe what is still unclear and needs more research.
  • offer information about additional support and further offers.
  • tell you about any treatment costs that you would have to pay for yourself.
References
  • list the sources below the article.
  • use scientific literature as sources, and correctly report their content.
  • do not use real-life stories – for instance, describing the personal experiences of patients or their families – as that a particular treatment is effective.
Up-to-date
information
  • show the date of publication.
  • indicate how long the information is valid for and when it is due to be updated.
Privacy
and data protection
  • describe how user data is handled (data protection policy). This is especially important if you have to enter personal data – when subscribing to a newsletter, for example.

More information:

  • Current topics
  • What can help when you are faced with a difficult decision?
  • List of questions for the doctor
  • Subscription to the Informed Health newsletter

Bertelsmann Stiftung. Das Internet: Auch Ihr Ratgeber für Gesundheitsfragen? Bevölkerungsumfrage zur Suche von Gesundheitsinformationen im Internet und zur Reaktion der Ärzte. 2018.

DISCERN-Online. Das DISCERN-Instrument. June 2009.

Dobbins M, Watson S, Read K, Graham K, Yousefi Nooraie R, Levinson AJ. A Tool That Assesses the Evidence, Transparency, and Usability of Online Health Information: Development and Reliability Assessment. JMIR Aging 2018; 1(1): e3.

Fahy E, Hardikar R, Fox A, Mackay S. Quality of patient health information on the Internet: reviewing a complex and evolving landscape. Australas Med J 2014; 7(1): 24-28.

Institut for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany). Concept for a national health portal: Concept draft; Commission P17-02. February 13, 2018.

Lühnen J, Albrecht M, Mühlhauser I, Steckelberg A. Leitlinie evidenzbasierte Gesundheitsinformation. February 20, 2017.

Stiftung Health on the net. Der HONcode in Kürze. May 2017.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

Created on January 31, 2019
Next planned update: 2021

Authors/Publishers:

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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