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    Health information on the Internet

Dear Ate Anna,

A friend of mine went on the Internet to look for information about a health problem. She found a website that suggested she buy an expensive remedy online. I told her she should talk to her doctor before buying anything. What do you think?




Dear Gina,

Ate Anna hopes your friend will think carefully about the information she found on the Internet. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If the recommended remedy is offering a miracle cure for her medical problem, she is probably wasting her money. Even worse, she could be risking her health.

Many people look for health and medical information on the Internet because it is a quick and easy way to get information. In some cases, it means we get answers to our questions without having to talk to someone about an embarrassing health problem. We have to remember that online information should never replace a visit to the doctor’s office and a trustworthy site will tell readers that. However, health information from a reliable website may help us think about what questions to ask when we see the doctor. 

It is important to remember that there are no laws about the kind of information that is on the Internet or who puts it there. For example, a search for information on ‘erectile dysfunction’ can bring up hundreds of websites that will include the sites of accredited medical institutions along with pornographic sites or commercial sites that promise a cheap, effective cure with no side effects. 

Here are some guidelines that you can use when you are looking for health information on the Internet: 

The address of the website (e.g. gives you some important information. Pay attention to the last part of the domain name: .com are for commercial sites,.org is usually for non-profit organizations, is for educational institutions. You may also see country codes for Canada, for United Kingdom. 

Look for the date that the medical information was posted or updated. Health and medical information changes frequently and a reliable website will be updated regularly. 

Look for the name of the organization that owns the website. A quality website will clearly identify the source of the information and include the credentials of the author. 

Check the “About Us” section of the website. This will tell you whether the information is there to entertain the reader, to educate the reader, or to sell something. Many sites allow advertising. Be aware that the purpose of the information might be to convince the reader to buy the company’s products. 

Be cautious about information that presents only one side of an issue or recommends only one treatment. A reliable website will give the reader a balanced viewpoint by providing information on all the choices available. 

Links should be current and active. Remember that the links you follow can to lead to organizations or companies that do not share the philosophy of the site you started from. Don’t assume that the links are as reliable as the original site. 

Ate Anna believes that we must rely on our common sense and good judgment when using the Internet. We also need to learn how to evaluate the quality of the information we find in health and medical websites. Please share this information with your friend – I hope she has not already spent her money on some fake cure-all!

Take care,
Ate Anna

Ate Anna welcomes your questions and comments. Please write to: Ate Anna, 200 – 226 Osborne St. N, Winnipeg MB R3C 1V4 or e-mail:

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