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Savvy Senior: How to find reliable health information online

Dear Savvy Senior: How can I tell if the health information on a website is trustworthy? I usually do a Google search on a symptom, drug or health condition when I want to research something, but with so much misinformation out there I’m not sure what I can trust. — Skeptical Sal

Dear Sal: You’re wise to be skeptical. There’s an overwhelming amount of health advice on the internet, and it can be hard to tell what’s credible. To help you sort through the online clutter and locate reliable health information, here are a few tips to follow, along with some top-rated sites you can turn to with confidence.

Savvy searching

First, know that Google or Bing is not always the best place to start a search. You’ll increase your odds of finding reliable health information if you begin with websites run by government agencies (identified by URLs ending in .gov), medical associations (often .org) or academic institutions (.edu).

Commercial websites (usually ending in .com), such as drug or insurance companies who may be trying to sell you their products, are usually not the most trustworthy options. To find out who’s sponsoring a site and where the information came from, click on the “About Us” tab on the site’s homepage.

Also note that good health and medical information changes all the time, so check the date that information was published to make sure it’s current.

Some other areas to be wary of include online symptom checkers and artificial intelligence tools. While symptom checkers do offer potential diagnoses that could fit your set of symptoms, they are often inaccurate and tend to err on the side of caution, says Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. AI tools, such as ChatGPT, can also be wrong or generate false but scientific-sounding information.

You also need to be cautious about using medical information from social media, online forums or YouTube.

Top health sites

One of the best all-purpose sites for researching symptoms and conditions is MedlinePlus (medlineplus.gov).

A service of the National Library of Medicine, the world’s largest medical library, and part of the National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus provides high-quality, trustworthy health and wellness information that’s easy to understand and free of advertising.

Here are a few additional websites, recommended by the Medical Library Association and others, to help you find reliable information on specific diseases, conditions and treatments:

Cancer: National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov), American Cancer Society (cancer.org) and National Comprehensive Cancer Network (nccn.org).

Heart disease: American Heart Association (americanheart.org), National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (nhlbi.nih.gov).

Diabetes: American Diabetes Association (diabetes.org).

Alzheimer’s disease: Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org) and Alzheimers.gov.

Public health and vaccines: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov).

Alternative medicine: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (nccih.nih.gov) and the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements (ods.od.nih.gov).

Before seeing a doctor, be sure to save or print out your findings from any research you do online, including the site where you got your information, so you can review it together.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.

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