How to Tell if You Can Trust a Health Website

There are many websites that offer medical information. While some websites provide accurate information, others provide inaccurate or outdated information. The National Institute on Aging offers the following questions to help you decide if you can trust a health website.

Who sponsors the website? Can you easily identify the sponsor?

Websites cost money. Can you tell who is paying for the site? Sometimes the website address itself may help. For example:

  • .gov is a government agency
  • .edu is an educational institution
  • .org is a professional or non-profit organizations (e.g., scientific or research societies, advocacy groups)
  • .com is a commercial websites (e.g., businesses, pharmaceutical companies, some hospitals)

Is it obvious how you can reach the sponsor?

Trustworthy websites will contain contact information. They often have a toll-free telephone number. The website home page should list an e-mail address, phone number, or mailing address where you can contact the sponsor and/or the authors of the information.

Who wrote the information?

Authors and contributors should be noted on the website. Their affiliation, including any financial interest in the content, should be clear. Be careful about testimonials. Personal stories may be helpful, but medical advice offered in a case history should be considered with a healthy dose of skepticism. There is a big difference between a website developed by a person with a financial interest in a topic and a website developed with supporting scientific evidence. Reliable health information comes from scientific research conducted in government, university, or private laboratories.

Who reviews the information? Does the website have an editorial board?

Click on the “About Us” page, or similar contact page, to see if there is an editorial board that checks the information before it goes online. Find out if the editorial board members are experts in the subject you are researching. For example, attorneys and accountants on advisory board are not medical experts. A more trustworthy website will tell you where the health information came from and how it was reviewed.

When was the information written?

New research findings can make a difference in making medically smart choices. It is important to find out when the information was written. Look carefully on the website to find out when it was last updated. The date is often found at the bottom of the home page. Keep in mind older information can still be useful. Many websites provide older articles so you can get a historical view of the information.

Is your privacy protected? Does the website clearly state a privacy policy?

Take time to read the website’s policy. If the website says something like, “We share information with companies that can provide you with products,” that’s a sign your information isn’t private.

Do not give out your Social Security number. If you are asked for personal information, be sure to find out how the information is being used by contacting the website sponsor by phone, mail, or the “Contact Us” feature on the website.

Be careful when buying things online. Websites without security may not protect your credit card or bank account information. Look for information saying that a website has a “secure server” before you purchase anything online.

Does the website make claims that seem too good to be true? Are quick, miraculous cures promised?

Be careful of claims that any one remedy will cure a lot of different illnesses.

Be skeptical of sensational writing or dramatic cures.

Make sure you can find other websites with the same information. Don’t be fooled by a long list of links. Any website can link to another, so you cannot imply an endorsement from a shared link.

Take the “too good to be true” test. Information that sounds unbelievable is probably just that—unbelievable.

Source: National Institute on Aging