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Navigating Online Health: For Successful Surfing

Here's the advice of the Medical Library Association and other experts about how to surf for the most accurate, comprehensive and user-friendly health sites.

  • Consider the source. Who sponsors the site and produces its material? Is it the American Cancer Society or some hobbyist posting from his basement? Click "Abou" or "About Us" on the home page to find out who sponsors the site. A general rule of thumb is that sites with Web addresses ending with .edu are universities, .com sites are commercial enterprises, .org sites are nonprofits and .gov sites are, of course, the government. 
  • Is the site trying to sell you something? Some .com sites support excellent content, with advertising; some may be posted by a reputable health care provider, such as a hospital. But other sites simply want to grab your attention to pitch products.
  • Check when the page was last updated ... which is often posted at the bottom. As scientific evidence emerges, a new study can contradict an earlier one. Mary L. Ryan, president-elect of the Medical Library Association, says some authors "throw up a site" and then neglect to keep it current.
  • Talk to your doctor. Don't take what you find on the Internet as gospel—it may be unnecessarily scary, oversimplified or just plain wrong. And don't self-prescribe based on online revelations. Your doctor can put information you find into context.

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