Some tips from the Director of NIH
When it comes to gathering health information, it's all about trust. Not long ago, most of us turned to trusted physicians, friends, or family members with medical concerns. But a new trend is emerging today. The Internet is fast becoming the first source of health information for many people nationwide. On a typical day, about 8 million Americans go online to learn more about medical issues.
With just a few keystrokes, we now have access to more health and medical information than in any other time in history. This information can be empowering. More people are talking with their doctors about health issues they've read about online. Reliable medical information can help you become a more active participant in your own health care, so you can work with your doctor to make informed decisions that protect your health.
Unfortunately, not all information on the Internet is reliable. Some Web sites post inaccurate or biased medical information. Others are not up to date. Anyone can post health information to the Web — medical professionals and non-experts alike.
Consider the Source
Choosing which Web sites to trust can be a challenge, but I can offer some guidelines. When you first visit any Web site, consider the source. As a general rule, Web sites sponsored by Federal government agencies are reliable starting points.
One trusted Federal organization is the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation's leading medical research agency. On the NIH Web site you can find a wealth of health information that's easy to read, based on the latest medical research, and reviewed by top scientists for accuracy.
You can begin your online search for medical information by visiting the NIH Health Information page (http://health.nih.gov), which provides links to a broad variety of credible, NIH consumer health publications. Next, visit the NIH MedlinePlus site (www.medlineplus.gov/), where you can expand your search to trusted resources beyond NIH. MedlinePlus was created by the National Library of Medicine, the world's premier medical library, to give you easy access to authoritative health information from across the World Wide Web.
Searching for Reliable Results
Most Internet users first visit a search engine — like Google or Yahoo! — when seeking health information. If you enter medical terms like "cancer" or "diabetes" into a search engine, the top-ten results will likely include authoritative nonbiased sites alongside commercial sites and those with non-expert opinions. To help you make smart choices when seeking online health information, I encourage you to visit the MedlinePlus page on healthy Web surfing at www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/healthywebsurfing.html. There you will find helpful suggestions for evaluating the quality of health information you find on the Web.
In an ideal world, the most reliable sources would appear at the top of search engine results. That is a goal that we at NIH are working toward. One of the world's most advanced search engines recently approached NIH to create a partnership that would give NIH a stronger presence in search results. Search engine representatives recognize that Federal agencies, like NIH, offer some of the most accurate and unbiased information on the Internet. Making this health information easier to find is a win-win situation for search engines and Federal agencies. Even more important, the general public will have easier access to trustworthy health information.
Take advantage of the valuable medical information on the Web, but be selective in what you read and believe. Always remember to talk with your doctor about health-related issues and decisions.
Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.
Director of the National Institutes of Health