How Can I Find Reliable Health Information Online? – 5 questions to ask yourself

When faced with questions about health, reaching for your phone is often the first thing we do to get information. Google, Facebook and other platforms can quickly provide answers regarding symptoms, clinical pictures and treatment options.

However, in order to find information transparently, there are a few things to keep in mind, because searching the Internet also offers risks.

The information found can certainly be helpful…

Millions of English websites offer health information, which are available around the clock and just one click away. From home remedies for a cold, to tips on losing weight, to the address of the nearest specialist – the possibilities are endless and often make everyday life easier.

Memberships of digital patient communities such as The British Research Panel, also offer many advantages. People can exchange ideas with others about everyday life with a disease, support each other or share experiences regarding treatment options.

The knowledge found can certainly be helpful in understanding your own body and serve as a basis for discussion when the next visit to the doctor is due.

…but are they trustworthy?

Most people use well-known search engines to find the answers they want, but not all the information you come across is good. The order of the search results displayed is determined by an algorithm that does not check for truthfulness or reliability.

This can result in one-sided reporting, or incorrect or outdated information being displayed. In some cases this is harmless, but it can also cause considerable damage. Furthermore, some websites are specifically used to share false information, such as supposed miracle cures being offered for sale to heal serious diseases such as cancer or to help with weight loss.

Our patient community specialist Eileen Ziemann recalls a patient interview in this context: “A patient told me that an acquaintance had discontinued her diabetes therapy without consulting her specialist after finding questionable information about metformin online. After a talk with her friend, she realised that the website was untrustworthy and the information unreliable and continued her therapy. Since then, she has become more cautious.”

Caution is also advised when it comes to data protection. It is not always apparent what happens to your health data online and whether it is sufficiently protected from unwanted access.

How do I recognise good health information?

To recognise reliable health information, ask yourself the following five questions:

1) Who is providing the information?

Who is running the website, and can you find their contact details? It should also be clear how or by whom the website is financed.  Such information is usually located in the ‘About Us’ section or in the ‘Legal Notice’ section – as seen on our website.

2) Who is the information aimed at and what is its purpose?

Does the information found provide an answer to my question and does it address different aspects? Health knowledge should be conveyed neutrally and objectively and not steer you in a particular direction of action. There should be a disclaimer that information found online cannot replace a doctor’s visit.

3) Does it contain advertising?

Good information is free of advertising. If advertising is present on a website, it should be clearly separated from editorial content. If only products from a single company, a single drug, or another treatment option without side effects are offered or effusively praised, great caution should be taken.

4) Is the information current and are there sources for the information?

In medicine, guidelines, for example on the treatment of diseases, are regularly revised. It is therefore important that information is up to date. Care should also be taken to ensure that sources can be found. Reputable sources of health information include pages from official authorities or scientific magazines. Further links should also be included so that people can find more information.

5) What happens to my data?

Reputable websites have a privacy policy that is publicly available. It should also be clear how to contact the data protection officer.

If you can answer the preceding questions, you are very likely to be on the safe side with the information you have found. However, keep in mind that searching online can never replace a visit to the doctor. You can also find more tips for getting trustworthy information at the following websites:

How to find reliable health information online | Patient


If you are interested in news from medical-scientific journals or would like to exchange information with other patients on health-related topics, feel free to take a look at our Facebook page.


Written by
Eileen Ziemann

Photo: © anyaberkut via

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