Dangerous Liaisons - UW Libraries

August 11, 2017

Evaluating Health News

Carolyn Martin

In my role as the Consumer Health Coordinator for the NNLM PNR, I bring awareness and educate various libraries (especially public libraries), K-12 schools, and community organizations about the free resources of the National Library of Medicine. Bringing this awareness and education is one way to increase health literacy and information so that the general public can be better informed and equipped to make decisions about their health and engage with their health care providers. One way to increase health literacy is by providing the public with tools and resources to better understand health news.

Fake news has been a recent hot topic on everyone’s radar and especially among librarians. But, in the health sciences library world we tend to approach this topic as how to evaluate health news. Whether the information is misleading or just needs to be viewed with a little more savvy, it’s important to view all news with a little skepticism.

Health literacy includes understanding the information many of us see, hear, or read regarding health and medicine. Long gone are the days when newspapers and other news formats employed journalists who specialized in specific areas such as health-science.  Many are relying on subscriptions to syndicated packages which allow stories to be used as is or customized in a way to have a more ‘original’ flavor. In other words, health news has changed dramatically over the years. Now days many of us encounter a glut of health-science information produced through a variety of formats such as television, radio, blogs, various websites, and social media. However, these health news stories often lead to questionable information being reported upon which the public often relies.

So, how to evaluate health news? Here are some resources to consider and to suggest to patrons.

PubMed Health offers information to help guide the public in understanding not only health news but also understanding clinical effectiveness, health statistics, and making sense of the evidence.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is one of the many institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They realize the importance of understanding health claims and have created a “Know the Science” page on their website. Here are interactive modules to learn about the basics of scientific studies and how to tell if a news story contains reliable information.

MedlinePlus, the premier consumer health resource from the National Library of Medicine (NLM), provides a topic page on evaluating health information with links to various quality resources to assist us when viewing health news stories.

One of the best resources to help understand news stories is a toolkit provided by the Health News Review website. This toolkit covers an array of information to assist those of us who rely on health news but want to be sure we understand the content as well as the quality of the content. Gary Schwitzer and his team assist the general public by providing evaluations of health news stories and providing criteria to evaluate the health stories we see.

All of these resources are freely available and can be used in social media, newsletters, programs, and clinical practice. Bringing awareness to these resources to future professionals is important so they can spread the word about the importance of understanding the science behind our clinical care and increase our science and health literacy.

And speaking of misinformation, Jevin West, Assistant Professor at the iSchool, will be presenting “Calling BS in the Age of Big Data” on Wednesday, August 16th from 1:00 -2:00pm on our monthly webinar series, PNR Rendezvous. Learn how to attend this session or view the recording.