Online medicines information: reputable or questionable?

11 February 2011

Following a recent survey that found around 80% of Australians search online for health information, NPS has 5 questions you should ask to help you decide if the medical or health information you find on the internet is accurate, unbiased and up to date.

NPS clinical adviser Dr Danielle Stowasser said the quality of information from sources other than your health professional can be difficult to judge.

“NPS encourages Australians to play an active role in their medicines decisions, but with the wide variety of information available on the internet, it can be difficult to distinguish between reputable and questionable sources.”

“Making decisions based on incorrect or misleading information can be dangerous, so make sure you always discuss information you find online with your health professional before taking any action.”

5 MEDICINEWISE QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT ONLINE HEALTH AND MEDICINES INFORMATION

1. Who is providing the information?
Is it clear who is providing the information? Also who funds the website? If it is not clear, beware. If the website is run by a government authority, an independent body, a professional organisation or support body, the information is more likely to be reliable and of good quality.

Check to see if the website and the organisation linked with it is Australian. If not, some of the information provided might not be relevant.

2. Is the information biased?
Websites exist for a purpose — for example, to provide information, to sell a product or to tell the world about the theories of their contributors. Knowing the purpose of a website helps you judge the information it provides. Sites that provide information, without selling a product, will probably give you more balanced advice.

3. Does the information promise too much?
The best information is based on evidence, not belief. The best information also acknowledges that health and healthcare is uncertain, that all treatments have both positives and negatives, and that nothing can be guaranteed. Warning signs to watch out for include things such as promises that the medicine will be effective for everyone, instant cures or miracle recoveries.

4. Is the information up to date?
Look for dates on web pages. This is more important for some information than for others. General information about an illness and its causes may not change much in 2 or 3 years, but information about its treatment may well change within that time. Links are another clue: a lot of broken links suggest a website is out of date.

5. Are the links of good quality?
Most websites link to other sites. Have a look at some of these links. If a website you’re interested in links to sites you assess to be good quality, then it reflects well. If its links are to websites that don’t meet your quality standards, then this reflects badly.

For further tips on finding credible information about medicines, visit www.nps.org.au/medicinewise_choices
 
ENDS

Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests. We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.