Community Education Group

Building Stronger Communities - One Project at a Time

Health Information Online

Through a grant from George Washington University, Community Education Group has developed and conducted a training program on how to find accurate health information online. Knowledge is power, and by finding accurate information you can ask your doctor the right questions and find the right answers. Through this program we also developed an online health tutorial, available below!

Navigating the Web for Your Health: An Online Tutorial

Welcome to Community Education Group’s Navigating the Web Tutorial. Below we’ll give you a brief introduction on how to use the internet to find accurate health information, so you can protect yourself and your family, ask your doctor the right questions and get the right answers. Now, more than ever, knowledge is power, but finding information can be hard. This tutorial will make it easy for you to get the information you need!

Contents:

  1. What is the Internet?
  2. How do I find information I want?
  3. How can I tell if information is right?
  4. How should I use health information found on the internet?

What is the Internet?

The internet is a network of networks, computers connected all over the world. It is an interrelated web of web pages (like this one) within web sites within a larger web of sites this site links to and from. People can connect to web sites created by anyone with a computer and internet account.

What’s a link?

A link connects you to a new page of information. Links are generally underlined and a different color than the other words, but you can always tell a link because your cursor changes from an arrow to a hand.

What’s a web page?

A web page is a single page of information. When you open up a web browser, it opens to a single webpage – all the information you see when you scroll up or down.

What’s a web browser?

A web browser is the program you use to look at the internet. It might be Firefox, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari or another program. It translates the code all web sites are written in into all the colors, patterns, spacing and other formatting you see on any web page.

What’s a web site?

A web site is a series of related web pages, created by the same organization. Sometimes a single website will be written by hundreds of people – sometimes a website will be a host to many different people’s ideas, or people’s individual web pages (for instance, many people create blogs on websites owned by google or yahoo – or profile webpages on facebook or myspace).

How can I tell what web site I’m on?

Every web page has its own address, just like an apartment. The address or URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is the code in the top of your browser. It tells you where you are on the web. One example is http://www.communityeducationgroup.org/programs/HIPS/tutorial. Like this:

The URL has several parts:

http:// this is the foundation for nearly all websites, and stands for “HyperText Transfer Protocol.” Hypertext means you can jump from 1 page to another. You never need to type this when entering an address.

www. Stands for World Wide Web, another name for the Internet – all websites are part of the world wide web.

communityeducationgroup is the name of the organization that runs the website. This will be part of the URL for any webpage that is part of our site. It tells you what web site you are on.

.org is the type of group that runs the website. It is also called a domain name. A .org site means that the website is owned by a non-profit organization.

  • .com means it is a corporation
  • .edu means it is a school or educational institution
  • .gov means it is a government agency

/programs/HIPS/tutorial are parts of the website. Each section, /programs, /HIPS, /tutorial , is a separate part of the site. This web page is in the Programs section of the site, because it is one of our programs. Specifically, it is part of our HIPS (Health Information Partners) program. And even more specifically, it specifies a tutorial! Every website has its own way of organizing information, so this part of the URL will vary.

And each webpage has a series of links to other pages, which have their own links to other pages and other web sites and on and on…. And each of these pages are written by people all across the world, with every opinion, every level of expertise and every reason for writing – from trying to sell something to trying to give the best, most accurate information.

How do I find the information I want?

There are two main ways to find the information you want. One is to go to a site that is trusted and verified by a healthcare provider. For instance, MedlinePlus, created by the federal government is an excellent resource.

The other best method is to do a search.

There are several tools to search the internet (called search engines), including www.google.com and www.yahoo.com. Google, for instance, scans through each page’s content, looks for sites that are most popular, and also looks for sites with the most links from other relevant sites. It does all the complicated work for you!

However, you need to be sure you choose a website that you can trust since Google will give you websites from organizations with health experience to organizations trying to sell you products.

For instance, if you want to know how HIV/AIDS is transmitted, you could search “HIV/AIDS transmission how” for these results:

First, Google lists sponsored sites or ads, meaning that the organization that runs the website paid to have their website listed first. Sometimes these are bought by large companies, like drug companies. Other times they are bought by non profits to highlight their organization. Sponsored sites are also listed on the right hand side of the page.

Next, the most popular sites are listed. Each of the websites provides information about how HIV is transmitted. The last website listed is the official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention page on HIV Transmission.

Search tip: You do not have to type “How is HIV/AIDS transmitted?” – you could also search for “HIV/AIDS transmission how” or “Getting HIV/AIDS” or “HIV spread by” – any of these will turn up sites with the answer to how HIV is transmitted. The key is being able to verify the site is telling the truth.

How can I tell if information is true? Ask yourself these questions when looking at a website:

  1. Who runs the site?
    Is it a corporation? A non profit? A university?
  2. What is the goal of the site?
    To provide health information? To sell medicine?
  3. Who wrote the information?
    Is it a doctor or other health professional?
  4. Is the information an opinion or do they provide sources?
    Do they tell you where they got their facts?
  5. Is it current information?
    What year was it written?

Example:

Let’s take a look at the first page on our search:

Even before we click on the link, we know it is a college, university or other school, because of the .edu, which I circled in red.

Clicking on the link brings us to this page:

Right now, we don’t know what school runs the site and we don’t know why it is providing HIV information. If we scroll down to the bottom of the page, no author is listed, and so far it hasn’t sited any sources. This site will take some investigating!

The first step is clicking on the Main AIDS Page link, which has the red arrow pointing toward it above. More information about who runs a site should always be listed on the Main Page, sometimes called ‘Home page’.

This site’s Main Page:

Here, we can find most of the information to our questions:

1. Who runs the site?

The University of Albany runs the site (see top red circle above) – which we can check is true by looking at the URL – the domain name is albany.edu – this is part of the University’s official website.

  1. What is the goal of the site?

On the bottom of the page it says it is ‘Provided as a service to the University Community by the Vice-President’s Advisory Council on AIDS Prevention’. The goal of the site is to provide HIV/AIDS information to students at the University of Albany. Because the goal is helping the student body, this site is probably a reliable source to find out about transmission. But we still don’t know the answers to the last three questions:

  1. Who wrote the information?
  2. Is the information an opinion or do they provide sources?
  3. Is it current information?

To find out these questions, the next place to looks is the ‘About the Site’ page – I added the red arrow to point out its’ location.

About the Site page:

Can we answer the rest of the questions?

3. Who wrote the information?

The Web development team put together the site, and both are from the University of Albany School of Public Health. This means that while they are not doctors, they are probably qualified to write about HIV/AIDS transmission.

4. Is the information an opinion or do they provide sources?

The site does provide a source, the New York State Department of Public Health, but it says that ‘much’ information came from that source, not all of it. Some may have been influenced by opinion or less accurate sources.

5. Is it current information?

The website doesn’t say when it was created on this page. One last place to look? The information about who sponsored the site back on the main page:

Clicking on that link brings us to the following page:

And the answer to is it is NOT current information. It is from 1997 or 1998, and ten years is a long time for most health information. You should always try to find information from the last three years, at most.

What does this mean?

By answering the five questions, we found out that while the site has the purpose of providing accurate health information, and comes from a source that can be trusted, some of the information may be outdated or inaccurate. This doesn’t mean that the information on this site is necessarily bad, just that it would be a good idea to look at other sources as well. Looking at multiple sources is always best.

By going through the five questions for multiple websites, you can find the best information on the internet! And you can prevent the spread of inaccurate information.

How should I use health information found on the internet?

Health information found on the internet is not a replacement for a doctor or other health professional. But, it can be an excellent place to find accurate information about how to stay healthy, to learn when to see a doctor and to know what questions to ask your doctor. By learning more about your health and health risks, you can take better care of yourself, your friends, and your family – and make sure they see a doctor when they need to.