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JAMA Pediatrics Patient Page
May 2017

Seeking Health Information Online

JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(5):500. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.3109

In today’s digital world, parents often seek information about their child’s health online. Many parents describe challenges in finding health information online that is accurate and reliable. Several strategies can help you search for information and evaluate it to be sure it is accurate and trustworthy.

Searching for Health Information Online

One helpful strategy for finding accurate health information online is to start your search on an existing health-focused website that is created and maintained by a health organization. One example is MedLine Plus, which is a website run by the National Library of Medicine. For pediatric health information, the American Academy of Pediatrics has a website focused on providing child health information to parents. This and other patient information pages from the JAMA Network on a host of health issues are available for free.

Many people search for health information using Google or other search engines, but there is no filter on these searches to deliver accurate information, so this approach is not recommended.

Evaluating Health Information Online

When you are looking at online health information, a first step is to determine who the author is and whether that author has health credentials. Most reliable websites will list the organization that sponsors the information or the specific author and the credentials they have, such as a nursing or medical degree. A second step is to see whether there are references or sources for the information provided. Health information websites will often provide citations or references that show where the information they are describing originally came from. Providing references from other sources supports the information’s accuracy. A third step is to check the timing; if the web page or blog is older than 3 years or the information provided in the references is older than 3 years, it is worth looking for additional information. While it may still be accurate, it is worth checking to see if any updated information is available.

Check Other Sources

Also check other sources. In this way, you can assess whether you are finding the same information across different websites. This is particularly important if you find a website using a general search engine such as Google. Looking at up to 3 websites is a good way to be sure that you are seeing similar information on different online sources.

Talk to Your Pediatrician

A research study focused on parents found that most parents looked for online health information, but only about half discussed it with a health care professional. Your pediatrician is the best resource for you to decide whether the information you find applies to your child or your child’s condition. You can discuss what you find online with your pediatrician at yearly check-ups or by a call, email, or an appointment to request input on information you’ve found.

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For More Information

To find this and other JAMA Pediatrics Patient Pages, go to the For Patients collection at jamanetworkpatientpages.com.

The JAMA Pediatrics Patient Page is a public service of JAMA Pediatrics. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your child’s medical condition, JAMA Pediatrics suggests that you consult your child’s physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 312/464-0776.
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Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.