SAVVY SENIOR – How to Find Reliable Health Information Online

Dear Savvy Senior,

How can I tell if the health info on a website is trustworthy? I usually do a Google search on a symptom, drug or health condition when I want to research something, but with so much information out there I’m not sure what I can trust. 

Skeptical Sal

Dear Sal,

You’re wise to be skeptical! There’s an overwhelming amount of health advice on the internet today and it can be hard to tell what’s credible. To help you sort through the online clutter and locate reliable, trustworthy health information, here are a few tips to follow, along with some top-rated sites you can turn to with confidence. 

Savvy Searching

First, know that Google or Bing is not always the best place to start a search. You’ll increase your odds of finding reliable health information if you begin with websites run by government agencies (identified by URLs ending in .gov), medical associations (often .org) or academic institutions (.edu).

Commercial websites (usually ending in .com), such as drug or insurance companies who may be trying to sell you their products, are usually not the most trustworthy options. To find out who’s sponsoring a site and where the information came from, click on the “About Us” tab on the site’s home page. 

Also note that good health and medical information changes all the time so check the date that information was published to make sure it’s current. 

Some other areas you need be wary of include online symptom checkers and artificial intelligence (AI) tools. While symptom checkers do offer potential diagnoses that could fit your set of symptoms, they are often inaccurate, and tend to err on the side of caution says Ateev Mehrotra, MD, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. AI tools, like ChatGPT, can also be wrong or generate false but scientific sounding information.

You also need to be cautious about using medical information from social media, online forums or YouTube. Comments in these places may sound authoritative even if the authors have no medical training or expertise.

Top Health Sites

While there are many excellent websites that provide reliable health and medical information, one of the best all-purpose sites that’s recommended by Consumer Reports for researching symptoms and conditions is MedlinePlus (medlineplus.gov). 

A service of the National Library of Medicine, the world’s largest medical library, and part of the National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus provides high-quality, trustworthy health and wellness information that’s easy to understand and free of advertising. 

Here are a few additional websites, recommended by the Medical Library Association and others, to help you find reliable information on specific diseases, conditions and treatments.

Cancer: National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov), American Cancer Society (cancer.org) and National Comprehensive Cancer Network (nccn.org).

Heart disease: American Heart Association (americanheart.org), National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (nhlbi.nih.gov).

Diabetes: American Diabetes Association (diabetes.org).

Alzheimer’s disease: Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org) and Alzheimers.gov.

Public health and vaccines: Center for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov).

Alternative medicine: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (nccih.nih.gov) and the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements (ods.od.nih.gov).

Any research you do online before seeing a doctor, be sure to save or print your findings out on paper, including the site you got your information from, so you can review it together.