How to Do Library Research

This set of pages has information on how to do library research. In all cases, once you have located sources, be sure to evaluate them, using the evaluation guides.

Warning Regarding Health Information on the Web (& Print)

It is very important to be careful when using information accessed on the Web.

An article entitled "Reliability of Health Information for the Public on the World Wide Web: Systematic Survey of Advice on Managing Fever in Children at Home" in the British Medical Journal reported that of forty-one sites accessed, only four adhered closely to published pediatric guidelines for managing children's fevers (from the abstract and author's abstract). Details are provided in the article. Therefore, parents who use Web sites for information about coping with a child's fever may be greatly misled. (Impicciatore, Piero, Nichola Casella, and Maurizio Bonati. 28 June 1997: 1875+. Includes footnotes.)

In addition, the article concludes that it might be useful "to evaluate the quality and accuracy of more traditional sources of advice for parents (childcare books and pamphlets, etc), which would probably be no better than those of the web pages." Thus, accuracy or lack thereof is an important consideration when Evaluating Books and Evaluating Articles, as well as Evaluating Web pages. The article warns that "advice obtained through the world wide web should not be a substitute for routine care by a family doctor."

Scholarly articles published in 2005 reiterate the need for careful consideration when accessing Web sites for health care information. The Health on the Net Foundation (HON) has established a Web "code of conduct" or principles to which they recommend medical Web sites adhere. The code is available in over thirty languages. See "Can We Trust Cancer Information on the Internet?--A Comparison of Interactive Cancer Risk Sites" (Cancer Causes and Control 16 (2005): 765-72), for an analysis of Web sites for assessing specific cancer risks; overall the sites viewed were considered to be unreliable. Only two sites were considered to be close to fulfilling the eEurope criteria.

Note: articles in mainstream media may also be suspect. Articles written for lay people were evaluated using a modified CONSORT guideline (the CONSORTstatement is used by some of the most prestigious medical journals, "to help improve the quality of reports of randomized controlled trials"). A pilot project found that "media articles do an incomplete job in communicating essential information about clinical trials . . .." (See Susannah E. Motl, Erin M. Timpe, and Samantha F. Eichner. "Evaluation of Accuracy of Health Studies Reported in Mass Media." Journal of the American Pharmacists Association 45 (2005): 720-5, for details.)

Things have not changed much in more recent years. The abstract to "The Impact of Inaccurate Internet Health Information in a Secondary School Learning Environment" (Journal of Medical Internet Research 10.2 (2008): article e17), reports that 22 out of 40 or 55% of links that provided information about vaccines were "inaccurate on the whole." An abstract for a 2009 article, "The Evaluation of Anaesthesia-related Information on the Internet" (Anaesthesia and Intensive Care 37.1 (2009): 79-84) concluded that "quality anaesthesia-related information is unlikely to be retrieved by patients using the internet." An additional aspect of health information found on the Web, mentioned in the abstracts of some recent articles, is that the reading level of many health Web sites is more complex than the average reading level of patients. This, along with the varying accuracy of the information found, is an additional concern for the searcher seeking health guidance on the Web.

A December 2016 article reports that "burn first aid information on the Internet is often inaccurate and inconsistent." ("Inaccurate, Inadequate, and Inconsistent: A Content Analysis of Burn First Aid Information Online." Burns 42.8: 167-77.) Sites that discuss and describe sleeve gastrectomy (September 2013) were scored using both DISCERN (Journal of the American Medical Association benchmark criteria) and HONcode (Health on the Net code seal accreditation); poor quality of information on the Internet dominated the results. (from the abstract of "Assessment of the Quality of Internet Information on Sleeve Gastrectomy." Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases 11.3 (May-June 2015): 539-44. These are just a couple recent examples.

There is a DISCERN Instrument available online. Information about HONcode is also available; scroll down to see principles.

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Content: Naomi Lederer

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Naomi Lederer
Morgan Library
Colorado State University
1019 Campus Delivery
Fort Collins, CO 80523-1019
(970) 491-0593

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