More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Web health info seekers tend not to check sources
October 29, 2006

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Only one-fourth of Americans who search the Internet for health advice regularly check the source and date of the information they find to assess its quality, according to a survey released on Sunday by the Pew Internet Project.

About 10 million American adults -- or 7 percent of U.S. Internet users -- searched for information on a health topic or medical problem on a typical day in August, the non-profit think-tank said. That ranks health searches at about the same level of popularity as paying bills online, reading blogs or using the Internet to find a phone number or address.

Common health topics searched on the Web include specific diseases or medical treatments, exercise, nutrition, prescription drugs and alternative medicines, Pew said.

Just 15 percent of those surveyed said they always checked the source and date of the health information found online, while another 10 percent said they did so most of the time. Three-quarters of those surveyed said they checked the source and date sometimes, hardly ever or never, Pew said.

Pew researcher Susannah Fox said one possible reason why Internet users do not tend to check sources or dates is because of the health Web sites themselves. Only 2 percent of popular health sites display that information on their pages, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that is scheduled for release soon, Fox said.

Most Web users look for health information with a general search engine such as Google or Yahoo, the study found.

"The question is whether consumers are doing the best that they can by going to general search engines," Fox said.

Several new search engines that focus only on medical topics have become available, including,,,, and

"It will be neat to see if they are able to change consumers' behavior in searching for information on the Web," Fox said.

The Pew Internet Project survey data was gathered through telephone interviews with 2,928 adults in August. The survey was posted on the Internet at


I am pleased that this kind of information is becoming available to guide people with don't have medical or scientific training to evaluate the credibility of online medical information.

A casual search for any given medical topic will produce a disproportionate return of biased information usually originating from sources promoting their own agenda.

Medical information should be unbiased, reporting the bad as well as the good, so that a person can make a decision based on benefits vs risks. Because the information is usually complex, the research done on the internet can serve as a basis for conversation with one's physician who can help in interpreting the data.

Unsubstantiated claims made by quick fix promoters who promise cures with no side effects are often based on self serving promotion of ineffective treatments.

There are no miracle cures and very few treatments that are absolutely risk free.

Any treatment must be able to withstand the rigors of scientific scrutiny, and treatments that cannot stand up to scientific scrutiny should be considered as anecdotal until proven otherwise.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
One way to check the accuracy or integrity of the information is to look for HONCode (Health on the Net) accreditation.

Look for the HONCode symbol on a health or mental health site and click on it to ensure that it actually reflects accerditation for the site your on (see the main Psychlinks website - we are HONCode accredited):


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David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
The HONcode in brief

1 Authoritative
Indicate the qualifications of the authors

Any medical or health advice provided and hosted on this site will only be given by medically trained and qualified professionals unless a clear statement is made that a piece of advice offered is from a non-medically qualified individual or organisation.

2 Complementarity
Information should support, not replace, the doctor-patient relationship

The information provided on this site is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her existing physician.

3 Privacy
Respect the privacy and confidentiality of personal data submitted to the site by the visitor

Confidentiality of data relating to individual patients and visitors to a medical/health Web site, including their identity, is respected by this Web site. The Web site owners undertake to honour or exceed the legal requirements of medical/health information privacy that apply in the country and state where the Web site and mirror sites are located.

4 Attribution
Cite the source(s) of published information, date and medical and health pages

Where appropriate, information contained on this site will be supported by clear references to source data and, where possible, have specific HTML links to that data. The date when a clinical page was last modified will be clearly displayed (e.g. at the bottom of the page).

5 Justifiability
Site must back up claims relating to benefits and performance

Any claims relating to the benefits/performance of a specific treatment, commercial product or service will be supported by appropriate, balanced evidence in the manner outlined above in Principle 4.

6 Transparency
Accessible presentation, identities of editor and webmaster, accurate email contact

The designers of this Web site will seek to provide information in the clearest possible manner and provide contact addresses for visitors that seek further information or support. The Webmaster will display his/her E-mail address clearly throughout the Web site.

7 Financial disclosure
Identify funding sources

Support for this Web site will be clearly identified, including the identities of commercial and non-commercial organisations that have contributed funding, services or material for the site.

8 Sponsorship
Clearly distinguish advertising from editorial content

If advertising is a source of funding it will be clearly stated. A brief description of the advertising policy adopted by the Web site owners will be displayed on the site. Advertising and other promotional material will be presented to viewers in a manner and context that facilitates differentiation between it and the original material created by the institution operating the site.

How to get the HONcode accreditation?

Note: The HONCode organization also reviews all HONCode accredited sites annually to ensure they are still in compliance.
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