Hints to Assess if a Diabetes Website is Trustworthy

Dr. Bill Quick Health Pro
  • I recently saw the following question:

     

    Thank you for the listing and information about diabetes websites.  There is one website, [name deleted], that I enjoy. I read their newsletter and watch some of the recorded sessions from their annual conference, and of course I have read some of their research papers. I have found the contributors to the newsletter articles to be open to answering questions too. What do you think of this organization?

     

    My reply:

     

    Rather than give an opinion on this one website, I’d prefer to provide you with some criteria to judge whether any diabetes website is trustworthy.

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    1)     Is there an “About Us” or similar webpage that explains the mission of the organization? If there is none, I wouldn’t believe anything on the website. If there is, but there’s no information about the author(s) of the website, be suspicious.  Some things to look for:  Does the author provide his/her credentials? What type of expertise does s/he have on the subject s/he is writing about? Does s/he indicate what his/her education is? What type of experience s/he has? (From an essay, How Can I Tell if a Website is Reliable?).

    2)      If you want more information about who authored the website besides what’s at the “About Us” page, you can do a search on the domain name at Whois Source. This website, and other “Whois” webpages at other websites, may provide detailed information about the owners of registered domain names. However, some domains have private registrations, where obtaining information about the owners is almost impossible.

    3)      Is there a mailing address that you can write to? Usually this will be on a “Contact Us” webpage. If there’s no address except an e-mail address, I wouldn’t trust the information at the website.

    4)      Does the organization have a privacy policy? It should.

    5)      If the organization is involved in fundraising, is it a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization? According to the IRS, “To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.”

    6)      Is the organization sponsored by a pharmaceutical company or diabetes device manufacturer? If so, be leery of any recommendations about drugs or devices – the marketers who set up these websites are in business to sell you something. But many of these company-sponsored websites have excellent diabetes information in addition to their sales pitches asking you to “ask your physician about…”

    7)      Does the website display Health on the Net Code of Conduct (HONcode) certification? Although many websites haven’t applied for this certification, the presence of the HONcode seal is one sign of a highly reputable website.

  • 8)      Does the website use phrases to describe a diabetes product as a “miracle cure” or “scientific breakthrough” or “all-natural”? If so, raise your skepticism level to extremely high. Or better still, move on and continue looking for other websites.

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    9)      Are the medical experts who are involved with the website (as writers or Medical Advisors) identified? If so, do they have diabetes-related credentials? If, for example, a diabetes  website were written by a brain surgeon, I’d be highly suspicious of the validity of information there unless the “About Us” webpage was extremely convincing as to why a neurosurgeon is involved with diabetes. Note: there are some diabetes websites authored by non-healthcare-professionals that have excellent information; again, look at the “About Us” webpage for their description of why they are writing about diabetes.

    10)   Does the author cite sources? Just as in print sources, web sources that cite their sources are considered more reliable. It shows that the author has done his/her homework and is familiar with scholarship in the field.

    11)   Does the website describe the types of diabetes as “Adult Onset” and “Juvenile Onset”, or as “Type I” and Type II” (it should be “type 1” and “type 2”)? If so, it’s either a very old website, or a very old writer who hasn’t bothered to keep up with the changing jargon about the various types of diabetes.

    12)   Is the copyright date, or last updated date on the webpages, more than 10 years old? If so, the content is probably out-of-date: things are changing rapidly in the field of diabetes, and unless you’re interested in learning about the history of diabetes, information from the past probably shouldn’t be relied upon.

    13)   If the website is a US government website, such as NIH.gov or CDC.gov, it’s almost inevitably trustworthy. If it’s sponsored by a medical school or university, and the domain name ends with the suffix “.edu”, it’s probably reliable.

     

    Hope this helps.

     

    By the way, if any reader of this essay has additional criteria that I’ve overlooked, I’d be appreciative if they could add a comment below.

     

Published On: December 24, 2013