A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

6 tips for decoding health information

woman using her laptop computer / online apps for medication

Consider the source and publication date of health information you find on social media.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated in light of information being disseminated about the new coronavirus (COVID-19). For more information about COVID-19, visit marshfieldclinic.org/coronavirus.

The internet is full of information on health research, trends and new products. Some information is accurate and worth using to improve your health; other information isn’t.

With the COVID-19 pandemic at the forefront, many people are scrolling the internet for pertinent information to know. That said, it is imperative to gather information from trustworthy sites and sources.

How do you know what to trust?

“Ask yourself if what you’re reading makes sense,” said Dr. Brady Didion, a Marshfield Clinic Health System family medicine physician. “Is it reasonable?”

History tells us that an informed, activated population is vital to protecting the public health, according to the National Academy of Medicine. When in doubt, use these tips to make sense of health information.

1. Consider the source.

Look for health information from reliable authorities. Avoid information overload by checking a few favorite sources regularly. If you don’t recognize the source, crosscheck the information with credible sources.

Examples of credible health information sources include:

Be skeptical of content sponsored by a group that has something to gain from you trying the trend or product.

2. Ask yourself, “Does this sound too good to be true?”

“Improving health usually requires some patient effort,” Didion said. “Things that sound too easy, like a supplement or drink that’s going to take away all your pain or make you lose weight with no work on your part, are suspect.”

3. Read past the headline.

Avoid “clickbait” articles. Headlines don’t tell the whole story and can be used to just get a person to click on the story. The rest of the article may include background information, pros and cons of the health trend and who is likely to benefit. It may even explain why you shouldn’t follow a trend described in the headline.

4. Check the publication date.

Information that’s only a year old already may be outdated. For example, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is evolving and there are daily updates. Search a credible source for updated information if the article isn’t current.

5. Avoid spreading false information.

This can be done without even being aware. Social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be a minefield of false information that you can easily share. Refrain from sending memes or posts that may seem humorous to you, but seem believable to others.

6. Consider how the information applies to you.

Once you decide your information is accurate and useful, ask yourself these questions before trying a health trend yourself:

  • Is it safe, given my health status?
  • Is it realistic for my budget and schedule?
  • Can I maintain the change long-term?
  • Will it help me reach my goals?

“Stick to mainstream media sources for information and contact your provider’s office for health related questions,” Didion said.

Ask your health care provider if you’re still unsure about trying a health trend or product.

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