How to Identify Reliable Resources Online

Based on the results of my poll on twitter, 90.9% of voters wanted me to do this post to help them be able to identify reliable resources on the internet regarding their health. Please be aware – I had a small sample size of only 55 votes!! But I’m going to do this post anyways and I will include at the end a list of reliable resources for mom & baby. So what can you look for when searching online for answers to your health questions?

The internet is full of information – but whether or not it is actually reliable and trustworthy is a whole other question. I’d say most of what you read on the internet is opinion based, which is fine – the beauty of the internet is that opinions and experiences can be shared so easily. However, sometimes experiences that are shared can be shady, or something I wouldn’t advise trying at home (or anywhere, for that matter). Even many websites or articles that appear trustworthy may not be. So there are a few things you can look for in order to help yourself identify a trustworthy source when searching for health information… *please be advised that your best source for health information is, as always, your HEALTHCARE PROVIDER!*

Where is the information coming from?

If you’re like most people you have used Google to search for answers, and Google, although it is wonderful, does not pull up the most reliable results, it pulls up the most accessed sites. So an initial Google search of a query is going to bring literally millions (+++) of results, especially for health information because it’s searched frequently. Most people just look at the first page of results I’d say, and if you do venture on to further pages it’s usually because you find that your specific question hasn’t been adequately answered.

So… if you search, “what is a fever in a baby”, which is a question I see commonly asked online and hear asked in practice, 312 million results come up. Often the first result is an advertisement – it will say ‘Ad‘ beside it. It doesn’t mean this isn’t a good source necessarily but it doesn’t automatically mean it is reliable either.

So the next thing that comes up is a few images – the images make it tempting to click. It’s like ‘hey there’s a baby with a white patch on it’s head (?????) and a hand holding a thermometer!’ – that seems related to my query! But don’t fall into the image trap. Again, images don’t mean a site is unreliable of course, but you need to look further before just blindly clicking in because of an image.

One way to identify a more reliable website is to look at the site name. http://www.BabyFeverQuestions.com (not a real website to my knowledge though I’m sure someone owns the domain name) is likely not reliable. “.Com” indicates a commercial website – this, again, doesn’t mean unreliable. It means that you should take time to look into the website (‘about us’ is always a helpful place to start on many sites) and determine whether the site might be trustworthy. So what can you look for?

  1. Review by medical experts or a medical team, or authored by someone with legitimate credentials – this should be listed somewhere quite obviously on the website OR on the specific article. But still be careful – I’m sure there are people parading around the internet as experts when they are not. For most medical professions, there is a public register you could search first/last name for if you really want to double check (I’ve done it). Also there are many people who parade as “doctors” but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are an MD… so look for that as well. Naturopaths are NOT medical doctors with an MD or the same amount of training, clinical practice or knowledge.
  2. No one is offering YOU specifically medical advice through an online chat pop up – this is sketchy to me. There are telehealth options in many countries/states/provinces, but they won’t be provided like this. Ask your GP or local public health unit if they offer these services specifically. Or book an appointment – some things need a real, physical assessment, at least to start with. A more reliable website might include a disclaimer that they cannot provide you with health advice online, and to access emergency services near you if needed.
  3. The website is affiliated with a university, hospital, health organization, or the government – this may have a different ending than .com such as .org, .gov, or .edu to name a few. If it doesn’t, you can look into a contact us page or an about us page where they will list this affiliation very obviously. It will likely also be at the bottom of the website where the copyright is, or somewhere very clear.
  4. The information is current – most reliable sites for health information will keep their information up to date, because they are affiliated or because they are constantly reviewed for accuracy and consistency by a medical team/experts. Sites that probably aren’t up to date are things like forums, or a website you find on the 19th page of a Google search may not be as likely to be as up to date. You can check for dates at the bottom of the page, or near the top where the title is. If you can’t find a date, it might be good to look elsewhere or call your office to double check. *An FYI – forums have a use, but is the information reliable? NOT NECESSARILY. Even recent information may not be reliable because you can’t know who is posting. Even someone claiming to be an “MD” or a “nurse” may not be what they claim. Forums can be helpful if you are looking to discuss/socialize, but any health information should be double checked with your provider.
  5. No bias – this can be harder to look for, but some ways of doing it online would be to compare 2 reliable resources (meeting the other criteria) online, or what I would do, is compare the information with what your GP says. The internet is so easy to use and you don’t require an appointment, but every person’s situation is different and it’s always good to double check with a provider who knows you, knows your medications, past medical history and so on. If you don’t have a provider, which is very common and I hate that, at least see a medical professional. Don’t self-diagnose online, it could be dangerous for your health and well-being. Karen on your Facebook group can’t diagnose you with strep throat either. Also don’t self-medicate with fish antibiotics – see a doctor!

Where else can I look?

You can do searches for information on trusted websites – government websites will frequently offer this. For example, I know AboutKidsHealth.ca (affiliated with Sick Kids in Toronto) allows you to do this – it is also kid friendly so you can teach your little one about safe searching!. If there isn’t a specific search option you can also Google search the website name and the topic – just make sure to check the site URL when you click through to make sure it is still the reliable website you were hoping to search.

MedlinePlus is a government affiliated website for the US that you can also do custom searches in. Many hospitals may offer searchable content as well, and public health websites are often useful for this. They will have handouts or webpages on common topics and lists of additional resources to refer to. They will often also advise you when to call a medical professional or go to the ER.

If you don’t have access to the internet regularly, you can search all of this through your local library which will have various resources available to you in different formats to suit your needs. You can use some similar criteria as above to check books for reliability – is it recent (very important with books since they can be very outdated), who wrote it (credentials – and even look further into the author if needed, double check with a professional or public health) and is it biased or is there a conflict of interest?

Apps! People love apps. They’re handy and on your phone – just like Google, but it may be more targeted and there are reliable Apps to use, which I will list next in more detail but many government health units have apps. Even the CDC has an app!

Can You Recommend Any Resources?

Yes! But keep in mind, your provider or a local provider may be able to give you more location-specific resources. You should also have a local public health unit that likely has a plethora of resources to offer – so please contact them if you are looking locally for resources or information groups.

Additionally, any specific health questions or emergencies should be directed to your healthcare practitioner or a healthcare practitioner you are able to access for care! The internet is handy and convenient, but it is not the best means to have specific questions answered regarding your health. It doesn’t know your health history. If you are seriously concerned about yours or a loved ones health, or are experiencing any type of emergency, please go to your local emergency room! (I have to put these disclaimers because I have seen posts about symptoms that constitute an emergency online – if your spidey sense is tingling about a symptom… often times that feeling is there for a reason!)

That being said, here are a few resources I use, or that have been recommended to me by other practitioners. This will be a mixed list, however my goal was to provide resources for mothers, children, and families.

Resources for Parents

  1. Caring for Kids – this website is by the Canadian Paediatric Society, however most of the information on it can be useful to anyone. It is kept very up to date and is an excellent resource for parents (soon-to-be and current because there is a pregnancy section!) and practitioners alike.
  2. About Kids Health – another favourite of mine and it gets an extra point because it is actually a kid-friendly website, which I mentioned above! This site is by the Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) in Toronto. If your child is a bit older, this site is great because they can access to learn about a condition they may have, or to become more informed about any illness, drugs, healthy living, growth and development and more. It is caregiver friendly too! Again – a Canadian site, but this information is useful to anyone! Just keep an eye for location-specific guidelines which may be different in your area – I’d ask you to refer to your local public health unit or agency for guidance regarding anything location specific.
  3. CDC Vaccine Schedule Resources/A Parent’s Guide to Vaccination (Canadian) – vaccine schedules and resources. For Canada – each province/territory has different scheduling so refer to your provincial or territorial public health website for specific scheduling details, or Immunize Canada is another great resource (on Facebook they have lots of cool infographics too!)
  4. OMama – this is a Canadian app for Canadian mothers that was recommended to me while I was pregnant. It can be accessed on your smartphone or from a computer. It is full of useful information from pre-pregnancy to the newborn stage – I used it during each week of pregnancy, like I did with a few other apps, to keep up with recommendations and growth/development. I like it because it links you to the source the information comes from! It does provide some American sources too, so once again although it is Canadian, some information is of course applicable to everyone.
  5. Healthy Children – by the American Academy of Pediatrics, similar to the 2 Canadian resources I listed above but will have more specific info for US. Also has pregnancy info as well.

Resources for Breastfeeding

  1. KellyMom – this is an evidenced-based website for parents, with tons of information especially for breastfeeding mamas. I have used this site personally a lot during my breastfeeding journey so far. Again – not a substitute for care – if you’re having issues feeding, being assessed by your obstetrical care provider and/or a lactation consultant is the best option, but this is a supplement and can be helpful if you’re having trouble understanding why something is happening.
  2. International BreastFeeding Centre – once again, a Canadian resource but you may have heard of Dr. Newman’s All Purpose Nipple Ointment (APNO)! I linked specifically to their information sheets page which has lots of information (and I mean lots) for breastfeeding mothers. Keep in mind some are specific to Canada (re: drugs mostly), so check in with your provider/public health for location specific info.
  3. LactMed database – this was an app however I see that it has been retired recently (correct me if I’m wrong?), but the database is still available via open access, which I have linked. Good for breastfeeding mothers regarding drug/medication use and chemical exposure. It also has info for medication use during pregnancy.

Resources for Formula Feeding

  1. CDC Infant Formula Feeding Page
  2. Public Health websites (or give them a call!) for your area. Many areas will offer both breastfeeding and formula feeding support groups and info.
  3. Fed is Best – good for both breastfed and formula fed babies. Evidence-based and has many resources for parents.

*Honestly, we need to do better for our formula feeding parents because SPECIFIC resources are limited – please DM me if you know of any others and I will add them.

Resources for Pregnancy

  1. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada/The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists – linked directly to both patient resource pages!
  2. LactMed – see above! Medication use information for breastfeeding and pregnancy.
  3. Evidence Based Birth – lots of great info on birth. Another resource I used a lot, especially when deciding about my induction. A great resource for HCPs too. They also have a podcast for those who don’t like to read or are on the go!

Resources for Medications

  1. Safe.Pharmacy -a really cool site recommended by a follower! Check to see if an online pharmacy is safe (I know a lot of people are using them now!), drug safety guidelines, and more. This site is associated with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy in the US.
  2. LactMed (again)
  3. There were a few apps recommended by #pharmtwitter including Medscape and Epocrates, but these are more for just drugs in general and geared towards HCPs for the most part – but still useful to know!
  4. MotherToBaby – medications in pregnancy and breastfeeding, brought to you by the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), a non-profit organization dedicated to providing evidence-based info on medication safety in pregnancy and beyond. This resource is American, so just keep that in mind when looking through it. Unfortunately are best Canadian resource for this (Motherisk) is no longer in existence. From what I can see the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada is working on creating a similar resource.

I will keep updating this list as I come upon more resources, so feel free to bookmark! I hope this was helpful and thanks for reading & sharing!

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