How to Find Trustworthy Medical Information on the Internet

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Looking for medical information on the Internet can be tricky, given the low rate of accuracy found on many websites. A new study suggests that people in search of medical information are safest trusting sites that end in .gov or .org.


A group of researchers set out to test the reliability of medical advice on the web by focusing on information related to sudden infant death syndrome and other sleep-related maladies among babies. The experts compared the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) with various websites found through a simple Google search.


Of the 1,300 non-AAP websites examined, only 43.5% contained recommendations that were in line with pediatrics professionals. Twenty-eight percent of the sites offered inaccurate information and another 28% were not medically relevant.


The web sites of government agencies—those with URLs ending in “.gov”—had the highest level of accuracy, 80.9%. National organization—with URLs ending in “.org”—also did well, at 72.5%.


The most inaccurate websites belonged to retail businesses, with an accuracy rate of only 8.5%. Blogs also did poorly at 25.7%. The biggest surprise of the study was that books and university sites (ending in “.edu”) only scored an accuracy rate of 50.2%, presumably because they are so often out-of-date.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

Accuracy of Medical Information on the Internet (by Jalees Rehman, Scientific American)

Safe Infant Sleep Recommendations on the Internet: Let's Google It (by Matthew Chung, Rosalind P. Oden, Brandi L. Joyner, Alexandra Sims and Rachel Y. Moon, The Journal of Pediatrics) (pdf)


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