How to start your search Health information online

Finding health information online can be difficult. Not everything is trustworthy, accurate, reliable, or up to date. This guide gives you some hints and tips about finding good information online and how to navigate the NHS website.

Important: Information

You should discuss any worries about your health with your GP. In an emergency ring 999.

Google and other search engines

Google can be a great resource for information but it is important to remember that Google is a commercial company with shareholders and so it needs to make a profit. It does this by carrying adverts. Some of these adverts are for legitimate medicines and treatments but all of them are designed to get you to part with your money and none of them are unbiased. They want you to buy their products.

So who can I trust online? Check out the address

Sites whose addresses end in … .org.uk, .ac.uk or .nhs.uk are more likely to be reliable.

.nhs.uk web sites are the most reliable. The information on them has been put there by experts after reviewing the best available evidence compiled from high-quality research studies.

.ac.uk websites are sites of universities or colleges. They are sources of good information but they are not government institutions.

.org.uk websites are produced by charities like Cancer Research or the British Heart Foundation. Because they are charities and not commercial organisations these are more likely to contain unbiased information. However, some non-profitmaking organisations can promote a particular treatment or course of action with good intentions, even though research shows that’s not the best way of treating a particular condition.

NHS Evidence - evidence.nhs.uk

The NHS Evidence web site has been put together by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). It’s aimed at NHS staff but it’s free to use and you don’t need to have a user name and password. 

screenshot of the search bar on evidence.nhs.uk
NHS Evidence search box

All of the information on NHS Evidence has to reach a certain standard so you can be sure it’s reliable, unbiased, and based on a thorough analysis of all the best evidence. Information with the accreditation symbol (the circle with a dot next to the title) has come from an organisation which must comply with strict processes and procedures in the way it produces material.

What if I’m not sure about a web site?

There are a number of ways to assess the quality of a website. Use the WWW - who, what, where. 

  • Who- Who is the author or publisher of the site and what are their credentials? What are their reasons for publishing, for example, are they trying to give you information or sell you something? Look at the "About Us" section on the website to find this information. 
  • What - What is on the site? Is the material relevant and up to date? Do they link information to evidence? Do they tell you where the information has come from? Look at the last updated information (usually at the bottom of a webpage). This will tell you when the information was added. 
  • Where - What part of the world is the website coming from? Statistics and treatment information may not be relevant to the United Kingdom. 

There are also organisations that will help verify the website that you are looking at.

The Health on the Net Foundation

A U.S. organisation that monitors the quality of health information on the internet. They outline a number of criteria you can use to judge a site by including:

  • Authority – who are the authors and what are their qualifications? 
  • Attribution – does the site back up its claims with references to reputable journals?
  • Currency – How up-to-date is a web site? Most sites should have something saying ‘last updated on …’ so you can check how old the information is
  • Does it describe how a treatment works?
  • Does it describe the benefits AND risks of a particular treatment?
  • Does it talk about any potential side effects?
  • Does it talk about other treatments?
  • Transparency – How clearly worded is the site. Are there contact details for the people running it?
  • Financial openness – Does the site clearly say who is paying for it? 
  • Advertising policy – Is there a clear distinction between editorial content and advertising?

You can also search accredited websites and the sites which have been accredited by the Health on the Net Foundation all have the symbol somewhere on them.

HonCode logo
The HonCode logo

Start your health information search

NHS website