Q & A Library
Can You Trust Online Health Information?
Can you give me an idea of how accurate and reliable Internet health sites are? Do you think it is worthwhile to learn about symptoms online, or would I be smarter to leave diagnosis to my doctor?
Answer (Published 5/16/2014)
You can trust my website. All of the health information here has been vetted by me or by medical specialists I respect and trust. I believe the same is true for many other health sites, but there are endless exceptions that could lead you in the wrong direction.
You can always get reliable information from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which has a huge and impressive online presence, and also from nonprofit institutions such as the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, as well as websites of major medical centers like the Mayo Clinic. The best rule to follow is "consider the source." If a large and respected medical center or a well-known nonprofit institution maintains the site, you should generally be on safe ground. But if you have any doubt, double check by clicking on the site's "about us" section. Look for a customer service team or some other way to contact the organization – that information should be available on the website's landing page. If you can't find contact information, stay away.
Some other precautions:
Although you can find clear, current and accurate health information online, if you have a health problem that concerns you, see your doctor. Medical decisions aren't "one size fits all." Despite all the health information available online, there's no substitute for a professional who can ask targeted questions, examine you, and order appropriate tests. The Internet certainly allows you to gather medical information, but you may need someone with more training and experience to interpret it as it pertains to you.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
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