Red Flags: How To Identify Unreliable Sources Of Health Information Online

  • Teodora Pamfile Bachelor of Medical Engineering – University ‘Politehnica’ of Bucharest

Get health & wellness advice into your inbox

Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to us via this website may be placed by us on servers. If you do not agree to these placements, please do not provide the information.

Best Milk Alternative

Finding reliable health information online is crucial to making informed decisions. By recognizing red flags, you can efficiently wade through the wide range of information available on the Internet. Browse this article to explore some key indicators that can help identify unreliable sources of online health information and enable you to make informed decisions. Factors like anonymous sources, conflicts of interest, bias, outdated content, miraculous claims, lack of evidence, and poor grammar can help you assess credibility and reliability, enabling informed health choices.

Continue reading to explore additional insights and practical tips for effectively evaluating health information online and making informed decisions about your well-being.

Where to find trustworthy health information online?

Health information is defined as content related to physical and mental health conditions, health-affecting behaviours, public health, population health, healthcare, health policy, or biomedical science.

Trustworthy health information can be found on:

Steps to take before trusting a website

When scouring the internet for health information, readers can employ several steps to assess the credibility of the information and determine whether it can be considered a reliable source. These steps are outlined below.1

  1. Look for evidence

Reliable health information is based on scientific evidence and supported by research, at the end of a scholarly article, usually called a reference list, works cited, or bibliography, indicating the original sources of information and enabling readers to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the topic.

  1. Check the publication date

Medical knowledge and recommendations evolve, therefore it is important to check the most current and up-to-date information.

  1. Assess transparency and disclosure

Reliable sources of health information prioritise well-being and education rather than purely seeking profit or promotion. Identify potential bias in information sources and pay attention to potential one-sided arguments.

  1. Look for quality research
  • Find journals that are peer-reviewed and ideally have many citations with keywords such as "peer-reviewed," "refereed," or "reviewed by experts”, "Abstract," "Materials and Methods," or "Results”
  • It is also important to aim for large studies when looking at scientific studies because a "large" study might include enrolling the entire global population with that condition, which could be as few as a hundred patients.
  1. Evaluate website quality

Websites that make outrageous or unverifiable claims, that include “sketchy” practices like aggressive or manipulative tactics that push products or services, must be avoided. 

Look for websites that minimise or clearly label advertisements and avoid intrusive pop-ups such as deceptive clickbait or forced subscriptions, as these may indicate a lack of credibility.

  1. Consult multiple sources 

A key indicator of the publisher's identity can be discerned from the website address:

  • .edu: Websites with addresses ending in ".edu" are published by educational institutions like universities.
  • .gov: Addresses ending in ".gov" indicate that a governmental organisation owns the webpage.
  • .org: Websites with addresses ending in ".org" are owned by nonprofit organisations.
  • .com: Addresses ending in ".com" are owned by for-profit companies.

The steps provided are known as “red flags”, suggesting to the reader that the information might be inaccurate or incomplete. Additional red flags for unreliable online sources of health information are as follows:

  • The source of information is unidentified
  • There's a potential conflict of interest
  • The information is skewed or biased
  • The information is outdated
  • Claims of miraculous or secret remedies are made
  • No supporting evidence is provided
  • Poor grammar and misspelt words are present.

Social media and health information

Social media platforms foster digital communities where individuals exchange health-related information and news articles. It is important to verify the source of the content and understand that information shared by friends or colleagues may not always be accurate, comprehensive, or relevant.1

Social media platforms can amplify misinformation, affecting individual and public health. Authors stress the platforms' responsibility to counteract this trend and provide reliable health information.2 Proactive interventions by social media platforms are proposed as part of the solution to improve platform governance. Regardless of the adopted method to promote credible sources and quality information, consumers will continue to rely on their judgment when deciding which sources and information to trust. 

Social media platforms should prioritize evidence-based health literacy and consumer education initiatives to complement their internal efforts in promoting credible sources and high-quality information.3 The process of seeking health information (HISB) involves multiple stages and deliberate actions to get relevant health-related knowledge. People may be curious about health topics and preventative measures or looking to answer their specific health concerns. Online HISB typically involves seeking information from various sources such as health websites, online encyclopedias, pharmacies, and websites of healthcare professionals.4

Be informed and consult your doctor

When searching for health information online, be mindful of warning signs. Consider the information you discover online as one resource to enhance your understanding and consult with your doctor before implementing any changes to your healthcare regimen.1 Consumers' assessment of online information credibility extends beyond the source and content to include the presentation style or design. 

The credibility of a source becomes less significant if it doesn't resonate with its audience. For instance, Lisa Fitzpatrick, CEO of the Washington-based organisation Grapevine Health, cited a community member who stated, "I don't understand what doctors are saying, and if I don't understand you, I can't trust you." Many public comments agreed, emphasizing that credible sources may not always convey information in an engaging or culturally relevant manner.3

Summary 

Finding trustworthy health information online is essential for making informed decisions about your health. To locate reliable sources, consider government websites, reputable non-profits, peer-reviewed articles, and educational institutions. Steps to assess website credibility include checking for evidence, verifying publication dates, assessing transparency, and evaluating website quality. Additionally, be aware of red flags such as anonymous sources, conflicts of interest, bias, outdated information, and lack of evidence. By employing these strategies, you can navigate online health information more effectively and make informed choices about your well-being.

FAQs

How can people find reliable information on the internet?

Look for reputable sources with expertise. Avoid bias, commercial sites, and anonymous authors. Check the publication date and consider the site's appearance.

How to tell if a source is reliable?

Assess the authority, accuracy, coverage, and currency of the source.

What is the difference between a reliable internet source and an unreliable one?

Reliable sources offer verifiable evidence, while unreliable ones lack professionalism and critical thinking.

How does health promotion impact health around the world?

Health promotion positively impacts global health by improving individuals' and communities' health status, enhancing quality of life, and reducing premature deaths.

References

  1. National Institute on Aging [Internet]. 2023 [cited 3 May 2024]. How to find reliable health information online. Available at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/healthy-aging/how-find-reliable-health-information-online
  2. Muhammed T S, Mathew SK. The disaster of misinformation: a review of research in social media. Int J Data Sci Anal. 2022 Feb 15;13(4):271–85.
  3. Kington RS, Arnesen S, Chou WYS, Curry SJ, Lazer D, Villarruel AM. Identifying credible sources of health information in social media: principles and attributes. NAM Perspectives [Internet]. 16 July 2021 [cited 3 May 2024]; Available at: https://nam.edu/identifying-credible-sources-of-health-information-in-social-media-principles-and-attributes
  4. Bachl M, Link E, Mangold F, Stier S. Search engine use for health-related purposes: behavioral data on online health information-seeking in Germany. Health Communication [Internet]. 7 February 2024 [cited 4 May 2024];1–14. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10410236.2024.2309810

Get health & wellness advice into your inbox

Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to us via this website may be placed by us on servers. If you do not agree to these placements, please do not provide the information.

Best Milk Alternative
[optin-monster-inline slug="yw0fgpzdy6fjeb0bbekx"]
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

Get our health newsletter

Get daily health and wellness advice from our medical team.
Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to this website may be placed by us on our servers. If you do not agree do not provide the information.

Teodora Pamfile

Bachelor of Medical Engineering – University ‘Politehnica’ of Bucharest

As a medical engineering graduate, I am an explorer of life, my dream job and myself. With a background in medical device technology and pedagogical skills honed through coaching, I seamlessly integrate technical expertise with a passion for continuous learning. My aspiration is to empower and support healthcare professionals to hone their skills and expand their knowledge for the future.

my.klarity.health presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
Email:
Klarity / Managed Self Ltd
Alum House
5 Alum Chine Road
Westbourne Bournemouth BH4 8DT
VAT Number: 362 5758 74
Company Number: 10696687

Phone Number:

 +44 20 3239 9818