People have always been able to access health information in newspapers and magazines, but the internet has opened up a range of new possibilities for conveniently finding and exchanging information on health. This can increase people’s involvement in their own health and provide them with valuable support from others.
However, it is difficult for people to assess the accuracy of information they are getting online, and they may not know who has access to any personal information they submit. There are no strong incentives for information providers to follow best practice.
The best websites are based on high quality research, originate from an independent not-for-profit organisation, are independently evaluated and continuously updated.
All websites containing health information should contain key details about, for example, the basis of the information, the authors, funding arrangements, and how any personal data will be used. Websites should seek accreditation from recognised schemes.
Governments should ensure that high quality health information is available on the internet and doctors should direct patients to these sites.
Doctors should receive training and advice on caring for patients who use the internet to access information about diagnosis and treatment.