How to Safely Search for Medical Information Online

Its becoming increasingly common for consumers with a scratchy throat or chronic stomach pain to simply hop online for a self-diagnosis. But Googler beware:  Not all medical websites are created equal.

In some cases medical websites are simply screens to get consumers to purchase a seemingly cure all product or to sign up for an untested service. These unscrupulous websites prey on desperate consumers seeking treatment or a cure from their ailments.

There are websites that are not credible, says Christine Leyden, vice president and general manager of the client services division at URAC, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit that promotes health-care quality. They dont have accurate, up to date health information reviewed by both positions in science.

It can be hard to sort through all the clutter online to identify credible sources of medical information. Thankfully two non-profit organizations, URAC and Health on the Net Foundation, have created seals of approval that will tell consumers that the website is providing unbiased information and has passed an accreditation process by the pair. The seal will help patients recognize creditable sources providing up-to-date and credible information.

The seals are becoming ever more important. According to URAC, an estimated 100 million people in the U.S. go online to search for medical information and that more people turn to the Internet for health information than visit a clinician.

In order for a website to qualify for the URAC Accredited Health Seal, it has to be peer reviewed, contain accurate, up-to-date information, be user friendly, have a reading level of grade six and have a font large enough for the elderly or the disabled to read.

Qualifying websites also has to state clearly if a drug is FDA approved or is in clinical trials. Whats more, consumers have to opt into advertisements and have to be informed via a pop up alert if they are about to navigate off the site.

Some of websites that carry the seal include WebMd, A.D.A.M, and Healthwise.

URAC has a complaint process where consumers can submit complaints and problems with medical sites.

The seal ensures when consumers look up the latest asthma treatment online they know its accurate and reliable information, says Leyden.

Health on the Net Foundation, a Switzerland-based non-governmental organization, also has a seal called the HONcode to help identify safe sites. Websites have to adhere to the HONcode of conduct which means it is authoritative, provides the qualification of its authors, contains information that supports the doctor-patient relationship, respects the privacy of personal data, cites the sources of published information and can back up any claims. Sites also have to have an accurate email contact, identity any sources of funding and clearly distinguish advertising from editorial content.

Consumers that only want to go to websites that have the HON seal of approval can do so by searching through the groups search engine here.

According to the Health on the Net Foundation, the search engine will only yield reliable and trustworthy results. Websites that carry the HONcode include, WebMd, and