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Which Websites Are Good For Your Health?

Monday, July 12, 2010

In 2010, the lowdown on any conceivable health concern is just a Web search away. Google “sprained ankle” and you’ll get more than half a million hits. Diabetes? More than 70 million.


We increasingly rely on the Web’s treasure-trove of data. But how trustworthy is the information we’re unearthing?

Follow these rules to find the best, most accurate health websites.


Know Who’s Behind The Site


It’s wise to cultivate a healthy skepticism about any health information you read online. Always begin the process by assessing who is responsible for a given site and what the publisher has to gain.


Reputable entities are eager to reveal who they are, how they can be contacted and what expertise they offer. You can’t go wrong with credible publishers.


For instance, the publisher might be a federal government agency, a medical association or a university.


Or maybe the site is backed by a nationally-known nonprofit foundation (for example, the American Cancer Society, National Arthritis Foundation or American Heart Association).


The site might be run by a clinic with a national reputation (think Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic).


Be Critical Of Content


Once you’ve established the credibility of the information provider, examine the content of the site itself. Answer

these questions at every site.


■ Is the information based on scientific research? Are references clearly cited?
■ Are doctors or other experts approving the content?

■ How current is the content?


Watch For Red Flags

If you see any of the following danger signs, close your browser window and look

for a more authoritative site.


■ Information touted as secret that can be found nowhere else.
■ Miracle cures. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Don’t open your wallet.
■ Claims that the medical establishment is ignoring or actively opposed to the publisher’s point of view. If this is true, it’s probably for good reason.

■ Testimonials. Such stories may sound persuasive but are worthless, scientifically speaking. There’s no way to know whether they’re true.


Look For Accreditation

A couple of organizations are working toward reducing the fear factor for people seeking online health information. They offer accreditation, or approval, to sites that meet their standards for content and ethics.


Of course, a site may be 100-percent trustworthy yet not have such accreditation. For example, the numerous websites run by the federal government’s health agencies. Their credibility is tops without anyone’s stamp of approval.


The best-known accreditation is that offered by the Health on the Net Foundation, or HON. Accreditation is also offered by URAC (the Utilization Review Accreditation Commission). URAC-approved sites must meet more than 45 quality and ethics standards.


Web publishers that have earned these approvals usually display a corresponding badge or logo somewhere on the website, often at the bottom of each page. Look for them.


And trust them.

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