Monday, February 20, 2006

Some brief notes on OPAL Workshop about Health Information

I have been meaning to put these small notes online for a while, but life has a way of trumping such things. I listened to the OPAL workshop on "Finding Health Information on the Web" that was broadcast on January 10, 2006. You can get to the OPAL Archives here for options on listening to it if you missed it. You can also find the HTML Guide to the Presentation. I do like doing things like this when I can because they make good and cheap opportunities to get a little professional development in. So, some of my notes:
  • On sources, look for .gov domain, which is for government agencies. You can also look for .org, which is for nonprofits, and .edu which is often for universities and teaching hospitals.
  • You should ask what organization compiled the information. It is important to evaluate the health information you find. Readers can see the list of suggested websites in the guide, which include places with criteria to use for evaluating health information websites.
  • Keep in mind that information online complements the relation with your physician; it does not replace it. These tools are meant to make people better informed. See the Code of Conduct for Medical and Health Websites (listed on the Guide).
  • On searching: general web search engines can be useful for finding health information. For an example, the presenter used Google, discussing the results, looking at the differences between sponsored links and the results. A basic Google search, on say "high cholesterol," can lead to legitimate results, but one has to evaluate the results of the search.
  • However, there are better, more specialized health information search tools available. One such tool is Medline Plus. Readers may also want to note the availability of sites for alternative medicine and treatments.
  • Don't visit just one website. Visit various sites and compare the information you find from one website to another.
  • A member of the audience asked about Spanish language sites. Mr. Peters pointed to a New York site, NOAH, (on the list) which has a nice bilingual interface and presentation.
  • A poorly designed site shows there can be problems with a site. Bias indications are another problem to look out for. Datedness is always important to look out for. Be leery of sites trying to sell you information, especially with the availability of so much of it free already from the government as well as educational agencies.
  • Remember that the web is just one source of information, but it is a massive resource.
  • Practice prudence and care in searching for information online about health topics.

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