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How to assess health information you find online

May 10, 2019

In this digital age, health reports are always at our fingertips. But search results aren’t always based on science.

Look at immunization rates. Vaccines are safe, effective and protect us from dozens of dangerous diseases.

A flawed research study in the late 1990s suggested a link between certain immunizations and autism. The science behind it was later discredited and the author lost his medical license. But this sparked vaccine skepticism that was fueled by use of the internet and social media.

Vaccination rates in some communities declined, and now diseases such as measles have resurged. Our success in potentially eliminating a deadly disease is in peril.

Health decisions are personal and should be made in consultation with trusted health care providers. But we must ensure that our choices are influenced by credible sources. The National Institutes of Health recommends asking these questions to evaluate online information:

  1. Who runs or created the site or app? Can you trust them?
  2. What is the site or app promising or offering? Do its claims seem too good to be true?
  3. When was its information written or reviewed? Is it up-to-date?
  4. Where does the information come from? Is it based on scientific research?
  5. Why does the site or app exist? Is it selling something?

Information from credible online sources can and should start a conversation with your health care provider. Combining it with the provider’s knowledge and your health history can yield informed choices that lead to optimal health outcomes. 

Dr. O’dell Moreno Owens is the president and chief executive officer of Interact for Health and InterAct for Change. Dr. Owens is a reproductive endocrinologist. He earned an MD, an OB/GYN residency and a master’s of public health degree from Yale University School of Medicine. He also obtained a fellowship in reproductive endocrinology at Harvard Medical School. In recent years, Dr. Owens has served as the Hamilton County Coroner, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College President, and Interim Health Commissioner and Medical Director of the Cincinnati Health Department. 

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