Guide to Using Health Sites on the Web

I'm trying to find health information on the internet. Where do I start?

You might try a search engine or subject directory. The Infopeople project sponsored by the federal government provides a useful chart of search tools that includes links to and information on various search engines and subject directories.

Can I trust the information I find on the Web?

Many internet sites provide accurate and up-to-date health information. Others provide information that is incorrect and even dangerous. Ask these questions when judging an internet health site:

  • Who maintains and pays for the site?
    Almost anyone can set up a health website. Reliable sites will tell you who their authors and sponsors are. This can help you understand the purpose of the site. Some sites provide information. Others are designed to sell products or promote certain points of view. 

  • How often is the site updated?
    Information about medical conditions and treatments is always changing. A good website will clearly state when it was last updated. Look for sites that update their pages often.

  • Does the site include a disclaimer?
    Sites dispensing medical information or advice should include a disclaimer. Reputable sites will tell you to always check with your doctor or other medical provider for definite information on your particular situation.

  • Does the site promise "miracle" cures?
    It may be tempting to believe promises of miracle cures. Unfortunately, most turn out to be untrue. Double-check information on other websites and always consult your doctor before trying a new treatment for your condition.

  • Does the site subscribe to the HON Code of Principles of the Health on the Net Foundation?
    The Health on the Net Foundation has established the HON Code of Conduct for medical and health websites. Sites that subscribe to the code must follow eight principles set by the foundation. Although many trustworthy sites do not subscribe to the HON Code, certification is one more way to judge the reliability of a site. Please note that the HON logo may appear on sites that are not certified. To verify certification, click on the HON logo. You should be directed to a page that includes the HON code number for the site.

Where can I turn if I suspect or have been a victim of a medical scam?

  • If you find a website you think is illegally selling human drugs, animal drugs, medical devices, biological products, foods, dietary supplements, or cosmetics over the internet, report it to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  • To file a complaint regarding a possible fraudulent, deceptive, or unfair business practice, call the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) toll-free at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the FTC complaint form.

What about buying medical products online?

Buying drugs and other medical products online may seem cheap and convenient. But some of the products may not be of the same quality as those purchased through more traditional sources. Be especially careful of sites that provide drugs or other medical products without a prescription. Ordering from an online pharmacy that is. Pharmacy Verified - certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy is one precaution you can take. You can search for a certified pharmacy at the Association's website. For more information on what to look for when buying medical products online, try these sites from the Food and Drug Administration:

How is my privacy protected when I visit a health website?

You are never guaranteed absolute privacy when you are online. Look for sites that have a clear privacy policy and read the policy carefully. If a site asks for personal information, make sure you know why it is needed and what the information will be used for. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer education, research, and advocacy program.

The internet can be an important source of health information, but be careful. Remember always talk to your doctor or other health care provider before following advice or buying products from online sources.

Last Revised: December 12, 2019