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Internet Research

Marvelle Koffler Breast Centre

The following document was presented and distributed at "Dialogue on Breast Cancer - Helping You Make Sense of the Latest Developments" held on October 23, 2001 as part of the Healthy Living Lecture Series. The presenter was Linda Muraca, Nurse Clinician for the AstraZeneca Breast Health Program. The presentation was developed by Nurse Clinician Linda Muraca and Sandra Kendall, Director of Library Services at the Sidney Liswood Library at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Surfing the Internet in All the Right Places: Top Ten List

10 questions you should ask when Evaluating Health related websites (based on material from National Cancer Institute - 2001)

1. Who created and operates the site?

Any high quality health related Web site should make it easy for you to learn and move around the site. It should also clearly show who is responsible for the site. For example, on the Health Canada site, each page has Health Canada clearly marked on it along with a link to the homepage. The site's perspective or position on a topic should be clear to the reader.

2. Who pays for the site?

Running a web site costs money and any source of funding should be stated clearly. For example, web addresses ending in signify a Federal government site and sites ending in signify a provincial government sponsored site. Sites ending in .com may be trying to sell you something. A good site should reveal how it is sponsored and if it sells advertising. It should also list any partners that contribute to the site. (A list of abbreviated terms is at the bottom of this page.)

3. What is the purpose of the site?

This is related to who runs and pays for the site. It is useful to check the "About the site" or "About us" link which does appear on many sites. The purpose should be clearly stated so you can evaluate the credibility of the information.

4. Where does the information come from?

Many health/medical sites post information collected from other Web sources or sites. If the person or organization did not create the information, the original source should be clearly labeled.

5. What is the basis of the information?

In addition to identifying who wrote the content, the site should describe the evidence that the content is based on. Medical facts and figures should have references from a medical journal. For example, Epidemiology, Journal of Clinical Oncology etc. Opinions or advice should be set apart from information that is "evidence-based" or based on research results.

6. How is the information selected?

Is there an editorial board? Do people with educational credentials review the material before it is posted?

7. How current is the information?

Web sites should be updated and reviewed regularly. It is particularly important that medical information be current and that the last review date be clearly posted. For example, on the Health Canada site at the bottom of each page it clearly states Last Modified with the date and time beside it.

8. How does the site choose links to other sites?

Some medical sites do not link to any other sites. In fact, Health Canada has posted a message that they will be discontinuing their link page. Some sites will create links to any site that asks or pays. For example, the Marvelle Koffler site is linked to other sites that met certain criteria such as: relevant, current, not selling products, unbiased, etc.

9. What information does the site collect, and why?

Many health sites ask you to "subscribe" or "become a member". They may want to collect a user fee or select information relevant to you. Some sites sell data about their users to other companies. For example, what percentage of their users are women with breast cancer?. Be careful and read any privacy policy and do not sign up for anything that you are not sure of.

10. How does the site manage interactions with visitors?

There should always be a way for you to contact the site owners with problems, feedback and questions. If the site hosts chat rooms or other online discussions, it should inform visitors what the terms of using the service are. Is it moderated? If yes, by whom, and for what purpose? It is suggested that you should spend time reading the discussion before joining in, so you can feel comfortable before participating.

Common Internet Suffix Legend

Commercial * (not always a site selling something)
.gc Government of Canada
.net Network organization *
.org Organization or Association *
.ca Canada

* The .com, .net and .org domains can be registered and used by anyone.
Sites do not always match the definition of the suffix they use.