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Navigating Your Way to Good Health: Finding Reliable Information Online

person surfing the web, looking at webmd and google

As a Veteran, you might feel you can handle your health on your own. And with all of the health information available on the Internet, it shouldn't be too hard to find.

It's certainly true that your health is ultimately your responsibility. The Pew Internet & American Life Project conducted a study that showed eight in ten Americans have looked up health information on the Web. But you want to make sure the online health information you get is accurate and reliable. So how do you separate the good information from the bad - or even the downright dangerous?

First and foremost, consider the source, says Dr. Susan Woods, staff physician at the Portland VA Medical Center in Portland, Ore., and Associate National Director for eHealth at the Veterans Health Administration Office of Informatics and Analytics.

"When you use the Web, check to see who runs the site," said Woods. "Is it a government agency? A research group? A company? Does the information come from a credible health system like the Mayo Clinic or a federal website like the National Institutes of Health?"

To find quality information:Dr. Susan Woods, Portland VA Medical Center

  • Check the date. Go to the bottom of the Web page to see when information was posted or last updated. This is especially important for health information, which can change often based on new research.

  • Check the experts. Look for whether the information was written or reviewed by an expert. Read the "About Us" section to learn who operates the site.

  • Avoid the sales pitch. Beware of sites plugging a product or service - or that are full of advertisements or personal testimonials.

  • Get a second opinion. Check the information against one or several other websites to see if it matches up. Share what you find with your doctor.

  • Trust your gut. Rely on your gut feeling and common sense. If the information seems untrue, it probably is.

How can VA and My HealtheVet help?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) created My HealtheVet to give you information you can trust and help you take charge of your health. Make it your first online stop.

"All the Vets I spoke with love it," said Ralph Stott, a retired Vietnam Veteran who volunteers to register Veterans on My HealtheVet at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, IL. "In my opinion, My HealtheVet takes care of physical, mental and even spiritual needs. If you go to My HealtheVet, really look at what's offered and actually apply some of the useful things they have, it can give you a new lease on life."

It did for Stott. Using the activity and food journals on My HealtheVet, Stott revamped his exercise and eating habits. Now he rides his bicycle, runs two miles a day and eats less meat and more fruit. He also switched to skim milk.

"Eating healthier has given me so much energy I can hardly contain myself," said Stott. "I'm in better health now at 68 than I was when I was playing football in high school."

My HealtheVet is designed to work with VA's health system to give Veterans coordinated, full-service care.

"Vets have a primary care, patient-aligned team, which they communicate with in several ways," said Woods. "For instance, a Vet can go to My HealtheVet for information and then communicate with the team through Secure Messaging or by phone to check it out, according to Woods. "It's the team's purpose to triage the Veteran's concern."

Through My HealtheVet, "we're trying to deliver a spectrum of care using whatever tools are at the Veteran's disposal, ranging from virtual communication with a health care provider through Secure Messaging to face-to-face care," Woods said. "What the VA offers is wonderful."

Read More

The Pew Internet & American Life Project (VA) - Highlights of the Pew Internet Project's research related to health and health care.

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) - More health information from the VA.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) - Three government websites the FTC recommends for health information.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) - Fact sheets, brochures, press releases, videos and other information from the nation's medical research agency.

Mayo Clinic - Patient information, research and more from one of the nation's top medical institutions.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Health information for the public on many topics, including vaccines, children's health, global and environmental health, emergencies, diseases, healthy living and more.

Updated March 20, 2012