The internet can be great for finding information about your health condition and getting support. But it’s crucial to make sure you’re looking at information you can trust. Here are some tips on what to look out for.
What can I use the internet for?
It can be really handy to have so much information at your fingertips. The internet can help you to manage your condition in a number of ways:
- you can use NHS websites to search for and compare health services, including GPs, opticians and support services for different conditions
- some surgeries and hospitals will let you book and manage appointments online
- you can learn more about your condition and how to manage it, adding to the information your doctor has given you
- there is a growing number of apps to help you manage your health – for example, you can order repeat prescriptions or monitor how far you’ve walked
- online forums and support groups allow you to share experiences with people in similar situations.
Some people buy medication online, but this can be risky. You should only buy from a registered online pharmacy. Read the NHS guidance about the dangers of buying medicine online.
At some point, you’ll probably need to search for something on the internet. You might do this through a search engine or through a search function on a particular website, such as the NHS websites. Here are some ways to get the best results from your search.
- The internet is huge. A quick search for diabetes produces more than a billion results. So try to narrow down your search. For example, you might want to specify the type of diabetes you have or your precise question, such as “medication for Type 2 diabetes”.
- Use quotation marks to search for an exact phrase, such as “pain management programmes” or “arthritis support groups”.
- If you’re searching for a service, such as a GP or a counsellor, search through a relevant professional website rather than a general search engine like Google. For example:
- for NHS services, visit NHS services in England, NHS Wales or NHS inform in Scotland
- for talking therapies, such as counselling, try the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy website or COSCA in Scotland.
Things to check
Check the date
Medical advice changes over time, so make sure what you’re reading is up to date. Some websites include their publication date.
Who has produced it?
Who has written it and why? For example, are they just trying to pass on information or do they have other aims, such as trying to sell you something?
Does it look professional?
Is it well written, without errors? Do links work?
Does it apply to me?
What is true for one person may not be true for you, even if you have the same condition. Is the author expressing an opinion based on their own experience or stating a fact and giving evidence to back it up?
Does it seem accurate?
Check if it is endorsed by an organisation you trust, such as the NHS. You can also check if it has been accredited as a source of reliable health information, for example by Health on the Net or the Patient Information Forum’s PIF TICK. Does it follow general guidelines, such as those set out in the NHS England content policy? You can also look for information from well-known charities or government-run organisations (look for websites ending in .gov).
Does it tell you where the information comes from?
Can you see the sources, either on the website or by asking the organisation for them? Do they look reputable? For example, is the information based on scientific evidence? See if you can cross-check it with another website you trust or in a printed source. You can also check the website to see if there is information about how they produce their content.
Remember, if you’re unsure about anything, check with your GP or consultant. Don’t base an important medical decision on online information alone.
Some good places to start
For general health information:
Patient.info – healthcare information written and reviewed by doctors. It also has discussion forums for many health conditions.
To share experiences:
Healthtalk – information based on people's real-life experiences. It includes videos where they talk about their experiences
Health Unlocked – a social network where people can talk about their conditions. It’s moderated by patient organisations and charities.
And for specific conditions:
- Alzheimer's Society
- Asthma + Lung UK
- Bladder and Bowel UK
- British Heart Foundation
- British Liver Trust
- Dementia UK
- Diabetes UK
- Macmillan Cancer Support
- MND Association
- MS Society UK
- National Kidney Federation
- Parkinson's UK
- Royal Osteoporosis Society
- Stroke Association
- Versus Arthritis.
This isn’t a complete list. There are charities for many health conditions offering information and advice.
Also in this section
Also of interest
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