Judging Medical Information on the Internet: A Guide to Reliable Sources

My friend, Frank Kohn reminded me with his post about Dr. Google, that it should be a physician’s responsibility to help non-medical people judge how to evaluate medical information on the internet.  Here goes my best attempt: 

The internet serves as a vast repository of medical knowledge. Good info many times, but also  a breeding ground for misinformation. To make informed decisions about your health, it’s crucial to know how to judge the reliability of medical information found online. Here are some guidelines to help you:


  • Watch out for sensationalist headlines, exaggerated claims, or miracle cures. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 
  • Be cautious of websites or sources that are trying to sell products or services ever so subtly and keep a skeptical mind
  • Beware of individuals who tout their credentials from organizations or societies.  Do a quick search of that organization to see if it is reputable, has respected members and is referenced by other respected organizations

Then if not too many red flags, it’s worth digging a little deeper:

1. Check the Source:

   – Begin by examining the source of the information. Look for well-established and reputable sources such as government health agencies (e.g., CDC, WHO), medical institutions (e.g., Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic), and respected healthcare organizations (e.g., American Heart Association). These organizations often have rigorous editorial processes.

2. Evaluate Author Credentials:

   – Assess the qualifications of the author or the organization behind the content. Are they medical professionals, experts in the field, or accredited institutions? Beware of information from anonymous or non-credentialed sources.

3. Cross-Reference Multiple Sources:

   – Consult multiple sources to validate the information. If multiple reputable sources agree on a particular topic, it’s more likely to be reliable. Discrepancies between sources should raise a red flag.

4. Peer-Reviewed Journals:

   – For in-depth medical information, rely on peer-reviewed scientific journals. These publications go through a rigorous review process by experts in the field, ensuring the quality and accuracy of the research.

5. Check for Citations and References:

   – Trustworthy medical articles should cite their sources and provide references. This allows you to verify the information independently.

6. Consider the Tone and Language:

   – Reliable medical information is presented in a clear, professional, and unbiased manner. Be wary of content that uses emotional language, fear tactics, or extreme opinions.

7. Consult Healthcare Professionals:

   – When in doubt, consult a healthcare professional. They can help you interpret and contextualize medical information based on your specific situation.

8. Use Critical Thinking:

    – Approach all online health information with a critical mindset. Question claims, and don’t hesitate to seek a second opinion when making important healthcare decisions.

Remember, your health is too important to leave to chance; verify the credibility of your sources to ensure accurate and reliable information.