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Health and Wellness Library Blog

Misinformation During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Tips for Evaluating Health Information and Sources for Finding Reliable Health Information

04/07/2020 12:00 AM

By: Dana L. Ladd MS, Ph.D., AHIP |  Health and Wellness Librarian | Health and Wellness Library, Tompkins-McCaw for the Health Sciences

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health crisis, information abounds from various sources including websites, social media, television, and even from friends and family members. A simple search on Google for “COVID-19” yields over 12,210,000,000 results. Facebook feeds are full of shared posts from friends with information about COVID-19. With all of this information, how can we know what is trustworthy health information and what is not?   

Before using any information to make decisions about your health it is important to critically evaluate the information you find or hear from others for reliability and trustworthiness. Use the following criteria to evaluate the information you find online or hear about from others: 

Evaluation of Information: 
Authority
Find out the source of the information provided. Anybody can post health information online and on social media but the person writing the information may not be an expert or qualified to provide reliable information. Find out who authored the health content of the page or information. Does the author have the appropriate knowledge of COVID-19? Search for the credentials of the author to help determine this. This information can usually be found under the “About Us” section of the webpage. A caution to note is that even if the author has the appropriate credentials he/she may be biased (see below).

Bias
Evaluate the information for possible bias. Look for the purpose of the information provided. Some websites exist to educate and inform based upon scientific research.  Other sites or sources of information may exist only to sell a product or to perpetuate a personal or political belief that may not be based on scientific facts. Fear may make people more susceptible to being taken advantage of.      

Accuracy
Ask yourself if the information you received is accurate. Determining accuracy may be difficult for those who are not medical professionals but there are steps you can take to verify accuracy. Compare information to known reliable sources of information. Compare the information to the medical and scientific research being published. When searching online for information about COVID-19 use sites that are librarian-vetted, reliable sources of information. A list of trustworthy websites about COVID-19 is found below. A librarian can help you find consumer information and medical research literature.

Currency
Check the site to see if the information is up to date. COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving situation with new medical research and information being disseminated every day so it is even more important to make sure you are receiving current information.

The following are current, reliable, and trustworthy sites for information about COVID-19:

The Centers for Disease Control
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html

National Institutes of Health
https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus

World Health Organization 
https://www.who.int/

World Health Organization
Myth Buster
https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters

For local (Virginia) information, about COVID-19:

Virginia Commonwealth University Health (VCUH) website
https://www.vcuhealth.org/news-center/news-center-category?&id=11

The Virginia Department of Health
http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/

The Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences has created a LibGuide with many resources about COVID-19
https://guides.library.vcu.edu/diseaseoutbreaks/COVID-19.

For more information about evaluating information visit: 

Evaluating Internet Health Information: A Tutorial
https://medlineplus.gov/webeval/webeval.html

Virus Outbreak (mis)Information and How to Cope
https://apnews.com/dedd5a5f5367b1da634a1e84dbb369ed

When reading any information about COVID-19 or any health-related topic, first stop and think. Evaluate the information before acting on or sharing information with others. Before making decisions that will impact your health be sure to talk to a qualified health care provider.

If you are still unsure about the reliability of the information or need to find information about COVID-19 or any health-related topic, you can always ask a librarian. The staff at the Health and Wellness Library is here to help you find reliable health information. We can direct you to quality, accurate, reliable consumer health websites and information. Call us at (804) 828-2432 or email healthlibrary@vcuhealth.org.