By Betty Berry, Monday, February 1, 2010 Q: I am a senior who has just become computer literate. I am enjoying my newfound hobby of visiting the Internet and have viewed a number of Web sites offering health information. How can I determine if the information provided is reliable?
A: First, let me congratulate you on becoming computer literate. It is the way of the future, and seniors should take every opportunity available to keep up with technology.
Seniors who don’t learn how to use a computer will find themselves isolated from current methods of communication and ways of doing business.
According to the Center for Medicare Education, an estimated 100 million-plus Americans sought healthcare information on the Internet in the past year. That number is expected to rise as more Web sites are established and the number of Americans increases.
However, since the Internet allows anyone to set up a Web site, you will find unreliable and biased information along with reliable and unbiased information.
Checking the quality and reliability of information on the Internet is not much different from checking other resources. You need to look for accuracy, authority, objectivity, timeliness and coverage.
To check for accuracy, look at the document itself. Does it look professional? Is it well constructed? Does it contain good grammar and correct spelling? References should be cited, and an author or editor should be named.
If the document refers to a study, can that study be verified through other sources?
Is the author of the information an authority on the subject being addressed? If the article is sponsored by an organization or individual, is the sponsor unbiased? Or does the sponsor have something to gain?
To evaluate objectivity, determine the reason for the Web site. While everyone has a right to an opinion, is the information provided primarily to sway your opinion? If advertising is included, is it separate from the data being provided?
The timeliness of the information is key. If the information is outdated, it is probably useless and could cause more harm than good. Is the information clearly dated? Can that date be verified? If the information refers to a study, is it the most current study?
Determining the scope of coverage might be difficult if information is condensed or in a different format from the printed reports. Look for references to other sites so you can gather additional information.
Although it is wonderful that you have the ability to research online, don’t forget the printed word. Many magazines and newspapers are excellent resources for reliable information.
Also, nonprofit organizations often sponsor seminars on health subjects as well as other subjects of interest to seniors and their families.
Being well informed is the most important part of being a savvy consumer.
Presentations by nonbiased organizations are scheduled throughout the year on a number of subjects. Try to attend one or more of these presentations. I think that you will learn a lot.
For more information about dates and times of these informational presentations, keep an eye on this column or call the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) at 477-7310 or the Senior Advocates Office at 495-6250.
Today: Seminar titled “Time Is A Terrible Thing To Waste,” 1:30 to 3 p.m., Westlake Village Civic Center, 31200 E. Oak Crest Drive. Facilitated by the Senior Advocate.
Tuesday: Seminar on “Health & Fitness Tips,” 7 to 8:30 p.m. Senior Concerns Day Care Center, 401 Hodencamp Road, Thousand Oaks. For reservations, call 497-0189.
— Betty Berry is a senior advocate for Senior Concerns. The advocates are at the Goebel Senior Adult Center, 1385 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362; phone 495-6250 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (please include your telephone number). You are invited to submit questions on senior issues.