Let’s say you woke up with a rash on your leg. Would you find the anti-itch cream, put some on the rash and go about your day? Or would you go online and search for “red, itchy rash on my legs,” get 11.5 million results and spend the rest of the day wondering if you have a bug bite or a blood clot?

If you chose B, you aren’t alone:

  • 72 percent of adult internet users say they’ve searched online for health information. Their most popular searches are about specific diseases and treatments.
  • 26 percent say they have read about or watched video of someone else’s health issues.
  • 16 percent searched online for others with the same health concerns.

Like most things on the internet, some sites offer good health information, and there are others you should skip. You’ll get better — and more reliable — results if you use a specific medical site. That means you shouldn’t enter your symptoms into a search engine and see what pops up.

“Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad information on the internet,” says Dr. Derek Robinson, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plan vice president and an emergency medicine physician. “Patients and their families have to be very careful not to believe everything they read. It can sometimes do more harm than good.”

If you decide to look for information online, Dr. Robinson suggests you start with these sites:

  • WebMD, which has information about medical conditions, drugs and a symptom checker. It can help you understand which medical problems match a complaint.
  • Hospital websites, especially university hospitals. Many of them have an online library you can use to learn more about a condition.
  • Government websites such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or your local department of health.
  • Medical association sites, such as the American Lung Association, American Heart Association or American Cancer Society.
  • Your health insurance company site. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana produces the LifeTimes newsletter and Connect blog to provide current health and wellness information.

Take some time to visit a few of the recommended websites. You’ll likely find one or two favorites you can turn to for valuable health and wellness information.

Of course, no website can or should replace medical advice from a professional.

“These sources can provide you with excellent health insights as you’re gathering information,” Dr. Robinson says. “But you should always seek the guidance of your health care provider for an accurate diagnosis and the appropriate treatment. A website is never a replacement for your health care team.”

magnifying_glass

Do your research.

How can you figure out which health websites you can count on? The National Library of Medicine has a video tutorial on how to choose a reputable site. You can apply the advice to other types of websites, too.