Health websites: how to make sure a site is reputable

Patsy Westcott / 18 March 2016

The internet can be a great source of medical information, but how can you know if the advice is reliable? Following this checklist will help.



When was content written?

Medicine is a fast-moving field so check the date of content and when it was last revised. Be cautious of anything more than a couple of years old.

Who is behind the site?

Go to the ‘About’ section and check. Are they doctors or recognised experts? Why did they set up the site? Where is it based – the UK or elsewhere? Bear in mind treatments and procedures recommended on foreign sites can be different to those found in the UK.

What action does the site want you to take?

If the site is run by a company that wants you to buy a drug or treatment, check with your GP first.

Does the site look professional?

Avoid sites with spelling mistakes and poor grammar and any without a contact address, email, and/or telephone number, but perhaps just a Webmaster email.

Is there any way to check content?

Content should be traceable. Look for references and links to peer-reviewed articles in respected medical journals so you can check accuracy.

Does the website promise more than it can deliver?

Steer clear of sites that offer solutions to medical problems that sound too easy or outlandish. Be wary of terms such as ‘miracle cure’ or claims that you can solve complex issues with ‘one simple tip or trick’.  Titles such as ‘Centre’ or ‘Foundation’ can be pretty meaningless.

Is it accredited?

Health information on the internet is unregulated but there are a couple of accreditation logos that show websites are transparent and evidence-based. Look for the ‘Information Standard Certified Member’ logo. This shows the site has been through NHS England's rigorous accreditation process. The Health on the Net Foundation code of conduct for medicine and health (healthonnet.org ) is an international ethical standard.

Some top health-information websites

NHS Choices (nhs.uk) Basic information on a wide range of topics with treatment options recommended by the NHS.

Netdoctor (netdoctor.co.uk) Has a symptom checker and contributions from leading doctors and health professionals.

Patient (patient.info) Contains more than 4,000 health information leaflets written by experts, a wellbeing centre, a free health check, and thousands of discussion forums.

Boots WebMD (webmd.boots.com). Provides GP-reviewed information and a symptom checker.

Healthtalk (healthtalk.org). Includes trustworthy personal accounts of conditions from angina to vascular disease.

Mayo Clinic (mayoclinic.org). The website of the US’s world-famous Mayo Clinic is packed with useful information on hundreds of conditions written by US experts, plus a useful symptom checker. Bear in mind some US treatments and approaches are different to the UK.

Harvard Medical School (health.harvard.edu). Special reports to buy online, news and newsletters drawing on the expertise of the doctors at the renowned Harvard Medical School and its affiliated hospitals.

Condition-specific sites

British Heart Foundation (bhf.org.uk)

Stroke Association (stroke.org.uk)

Arthritis Research UK (arthritisresearchuk.org.uk)

Cancer Research UK (cancerresearchuk.org.uk)

Macmillan (macmillan.org.uk). More advice on cancer.

Alzheimer’s Society (alzheimers.org.uk). For advice on dementia.

British Lung Foundation (blf.org.uk). For advice on respiratory diseases.

National Osteoporosis Society (nos.org.uk)

Diabetes UK (diabetes.org.uk)

Royal College of Psychiatrists (rcpsych.ac.uk). For advice on mental health problems.

Always remember that online information and advice should be used as a guide only. It is no substitute for the expertise or proper diagnosis of your GP or other medical professional.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.