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:
- Medline Plus: www.medlineplus.gov
- The Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care: www.informedhealth.org
- National Cancer Institute (NCI): www.cancer.gov
- The National Health Service (NHS) website: www.nhs.uk
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?||
|Do they list their motivation and objectives?||
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 ...
used for producing the information
and data protection
- 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
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.