The internet is filled with reputable news, studies, and rigorously vetted articles meant for consumers. Unfortunately, it’s also filled with a vast amount of wildly inaccurate, false, and downright dangerous information -- or misinformation as it's commonly known. Type "COVID vaccine" into a browser search bar and you'll get nearly two billion results in less than two seconds. So where do you start -- and how do you know what's credible and what's not?
Anyone can put information out there — and it can travel fast — but whether it’s based on rumors or shoddy information, can be hard to tell. In fact, a non-profit organization recently reported that 12 people were responsible for 65% of widespread misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. Making health decisions based on hearsay can be seriously damaging to your health -- and the health of others -- so it's more important than ever to know how to evaluate the source of your information and determine its validity.
Start with reliable websites.
Dependable information will be backed by factual evidence and research, not just speculation or vague claims. In general, government sponsored websites are easily accessible, free, and reliable. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are great places to start, and contain links to published studies, articles, and other useful and user-friendly resources such as MedlinePlus. For those that want a deeper dive into more scholarly research, search engines like scholar.google.com are specifically designed to skip over anecdotal content and provide a comprehensive database of indexed articles, academic papers, case studies, reports and more. Research hospitals such the Mayo Clinic or Cleveland Clinic are also great resources for research and articles on an array of topics.
However, if the information you find seems confusing, conflicting, or you're not quite sure what it could mean for you personally, you should talk to your doctor — especially prior to making any medical decisions.
Evaluate your sources
Once you find an article or medical journal on your topic of interest, make sure that it’s credible. Check the authors’ website and publisher's credentials and affiliations. A good rule of thumb is to use more than one resource in order to compare statistics and shared facts. Also, look out for articles written within a couple of years to ensure that you're reading the most up-to-date information. Remember that as new developments and better understanding come to light, the information can change -- sometimes rapidly. That’s why it's a good idea to always look for the most recent updates.
Other tips to evaluate your sources include:
- Rely on peer-reviewed articles and studies.
- Check to see if your new resource has endorsements or reviews.
- Make sure that any claims (vague or otherwise) are backed up with reputable sources.
- When possible, review the information from the original source to ensure statistics or conclusions aren’t taken out of context.
- Look for unbiased research. When looking for information on a specific topic, you’ll want factual evidence without any bias. Be wary of studies backed by companies who may have a vested interest in the outcomes.
If you're having trouble finding information from reputable sources, El Camino Health can help! Start by visiting our Health Library & Resource Center, located in our Mountain View or Los Gatos campuses. From customized literature searches to more than 3,000 full-text online journals and other online databases, you can find trusted medical information — and receive expert help in the process. Our librarians assist with facilitating research, finding materials and answering questions. They can deliver your materials via email, interoffice, fax, or you can pick them up — and it's all free!
This article first appeared in the October 2021 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.