Finding Trustworthy Answers to Health Questions
Heather McGinty, PhD, Assistant Professor, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
Heather Jim, PhD, Associate Member, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center
Everywhere you look there are people giving advice about health. News reports, talk shows, and even everyday people are eager to tell us about the new tip for improving health, losing weight, or avoiding a scary illness. Some health advice may sound pretty straightforward or obvious, like washing your hands to avoid getting sick. Other tips may seem off the wall, too good to be true, or downright wrong. It is not surprising that many people get frustrated or confused about who you can really trust to answer your important health questions. Minutes into a simple search for health information, it can be tempting to simply throw your hands up and quit.
Instead of giving up, use these simple ways to find the most trustworthy health advice. This guide will teach you how to sniff out a scam. We will also show you how to tell the difference between what has solid evidence (the good), what is completely inaccurate (the bad), and what is maybe just another fad (the ugly).
No matter how you get your information- be it online, from people you know, or from your doctor- be sure to check it out. Here are important things to consider before you trust any health information.
- Who is the source of this information? Experts on health often provide free information on the internet that has been carefully vetted for the public. Look for federal health agencies or recognizable health organizations as sources. The best sources should generally agree with other trustworthy sources. Be cautious if your source seems to completely disagree with the other experts.
If you are getting the information from an individual, what qualifies them as an expert? It may be tempting to trust somebody because they have personal experience with a certain health concern. However, what worked for one person may not be the right fit for you. Experts or teams of experts with specialty training or certifications are better sources.
- Is this an advertisement? Is it trying to sell you something? Businesses may use some misleading or biased information to sell you a product or service. Here are signs that something is an ad:
- It sells or promotes a product or service
- It only provides positive reviews or comments
- It states that it is an advertisement (check the small print at the bottom)
- Is this a scam? Some health products or services are peddling treatments that do not work and may even be harmful. When it doubt, run it by a professional you can trust. Here are signs that something could be a fraud:
- It uses flashy wording like “miracle cure” or “revolutionary”
- It offers one solution for many different types of health problems
- It says that their solution is a fast, easy fix – even for complex problems
- It claims that big business or the government hide treatments like theirs from the public
- How was the health information checked for quality or accuracy? Health information can have life or death consequences. The most trustworthy health information is reviewed again and again to make sure that it is accurate and safe. Trustworthy sources will usually tell you how they check the information they share. They will tell you who wrote or edited the information. If you cannot locate a credible source or get information about how it was checked, take the advice with caution. Be sure to review it with an expert you can trust, like a doctor who specializes in this area.
- When was the health information last updated? New research findings come out all the time. It is important to check when the information was last updated. Trustworthy websites will usually list the date of the information at the bottom of a page. If you do not see a date, do not assume that it is current information.
It is not unusual for some research to report on findings that differ from what we already know about health. When you hear reports of a new study, keep in mind that it takes many studies over several years to confirm whether or not something is generally true. Just because the finding is from the latest research does not mean that it is completely trustworthy or that it is completely false. Consider it something that needs to be followed up on and studied more.
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