Many healthcare websites provide valuable information that can help prepare you for the next doctor's visit. But some serve up misinformation that just might land you in the hospital. Here's how to tell the difference.
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The Health on the Net Foundation outlines 8 attributes that a health-related website should include to be considered trustworthy. Sites that follow this "code of honor" can qualify for the foundation's seal of approval, indicated by the HONcode icon on certified sites.
To qualify, a website must be authoritative and maintain complementarity, which means the information should support and not replace the relationship you have with your doctor. The site should also provide attributions for the statements it posts. A page on the site puts it this way: "Where appropriate, information contained on this site will be supported by clear references to source data and, where possible, have specific HTML links to that data. The date when a clinical page was last modified will be clearly displayed..."
Other criteria to earn the HONcode icon: financial disclosures should be provided to identify any funding sources; advertising and editorial content should be separate and clearly marked. And perhaps the most important requirement is something the foundation calls justifiability: "Any claims relating to the benefits/performance of a specific treatment, commercial product, or service will be supported by appropriate, balanced evidence..."