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Robert S. Porter, MD

STANDS—Commentary

10/5/2015 Robert S. Porter, MD, Editor-in-Chief, The Merck Manuals

Surveys, including one recently commissioned by The Manual*, consistently show that many people feel they have gotten misleading or incorrect medical information online. This is hardly surprising because it is both the stunning achievement and the dangerous trap of the Internet that anyone can post unfiltered information, thoughts, and opinions online where they can be read by millions, often for free. What is a bit more surprising is that our poll also found that a significant number (about one third) of people do not confirm the credibility of an online medical information resource before using it.

For at least a decade, people have written online and in print about these problems, and many criteria have been put forth for what makes a credible website. But the fact that people are still sometimes uncomfortable with the accuracy of online medical information means they need better ways to assess information sources and, just as importantly, need to be encouraged to check credibility. Thus, the Manual has drawn on existing consensus criteria to create an easy-to-remember reminder that people looking for online health information should see where the website STANDS.

tn_STAND

Click to enlarge

Source: Does the resource cite recognized authorities and provide their credentials?

Transparency: Is it open and obvious whether the site’s mission is educational or commercial?

Accessibility: Is the site available without registration, and is there a way for users to contact someone with questions or concerns?

Neutrality: Is the information available purely as a resource, or does the site benefit financially from what its users do (such as buying products or visiting advertised websites)?

Documentation: Is the site updated when needed by recognized medical experts?

Security: Can users access content without forfeiting personal information?

In the course of developing these criteria, we realized that, although The Manual has always listed its contributors and reviewers, we could provide even clearer information about the entire process by which our content is created and approved. To this end, we have added a discussion of our Editorial Process describing how the Manual is created. So please look at that, our Mission, and form your own opinion about where the Manual STANDS.

*Survey of 2015 adults in USA conducted by Harris Poll in spring of 2015. Results include the following:

  • 24 % say they have been misled by information about an illness or medical symptom from an unverified online source (rises to 30% among parents with children under 18, and 43% percent among millennials).
  • 33% percent don’t confirm the credibility of an online health site before searching for information.
  • 21% feel biggest barrier to increasing medical knowledge is inability to judge quality of medical information sources online
  • 40% not confident that medical information on for-profit sites is credible

Useful Links

National Network of Libraries of Medicine 

National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus

HealthIT.gov

Medical Library Association

 

Robert S. Porter, MD

STANDS—Commentary

10/5/2015 Robert S. Porter, MD, Editor-in-Chief, The Merck Manuals

Surveys, including one recently commissioned by The Manual*, consistently show that many people feel they have gotten misleading or incorrect medical information online. This is hardly surprising because it is both the stunning achievement and the dangerous trap of the Internet that anyone can post unfiltered information, thoughts, and opinions online where they can be read by millions, often for free. What is a bit more surprising is that our poll also found that a significant number (about one third) of people do not confirm the credibility of an online medical information resource before using it.

For at least a decade, people have written online and in print about these problems, and many criteria have been put forth for what makes a credible website. But the fact that people are still sometimes uncomfortable with the accuracy of online medical information means they need better ways to assess information sources and, just as importantly, need to be encouraged to check credibility. Thus, the Manual has drawn on existing consensus criteria to create an easy-to-remember reminder that people looking for online health information should see where the website STANDS.

tn_STAND

Click to enlarge

Source: Does the resource cite recognized authorities and provide their credentials?

Transparency: Is it open and obvious whether the site’s mission is educational or commercial?

Accessibility: Is the site available without registration, and is there a way for users to contact someone with questions or concerns?

Neutrality: Is the information available purely as a resource, or does the site benefit financially from what its users do (such as buying products or visiting advertised websites)?

Documentation: Is the site updated when needed by recognized medical experts?

Security: Can users access content without forfeiting personal information?

In the course of developing these criteria, we realized that, although The Manual has always listed its contributors and reviewers, we could provide even clearer information about the entire process by which our content is created and approved. To this end, we have added a discussion of our Editorial Process describing how the Manual is created. So please look at that, our Mission, and form your own opinion about where the Manual STANDS.

*Survey of 2015 adults in USA conducted by Harris Poll in spring of 2015. Results include the following:

  • 24 % say they have been misled by information about an illness or medical symptom from an unverified online source (rises to 30% among parents with children under 18, and 43% percent among millennials).
  • 33% percent don’t confirm the credibility of an online health site before searching for information.
  • 21% feel biggest barrier to increasing medical knowledge is inability to judge quality of medical information sources online
  • 40% not confident that medical information on for-profit sites is credible

Useful Links

National Network of Libraries of Medicine 

National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus

HealthIT.gov

Medical Library Association