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Guidelines for seeking health information online

Flaura Koplin Winston is scientific director of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Center for Injury Research and Prevention. She wrote this on's "Healthy Kids" blog.

Flaura Koplin Winston is scientific director of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Center for Injury Research and Prevention. She wrote this for the "Healthy Kids" blog.

Where do you go for medical advice in caring for your child?

You are increasingly going digital, concludes a survey by the Pew Research Center. Seven in 10 people looked online for health information last year and found it through search engines such as Bing and Google. This can be a good first step, but may not tell you if it's trustworthy. Your child's life may depend on it.

Digital search results are produced by algorithms - the processes ensuring that the answers people "like" are shown first. These searches can be manipulated. A huge industry works to ensure that algorithms find content and put them first, to promote a product, a cause, or a viewpoint.

Still more challenges occur if the material comes from a famous person. Many people might "like" these celebrities, follow them and what they say, not because they know about medicine, but because of their star power.

Let's face it: We might love our real-life doctors, but people who play doctors on television or celebrities who talk about health can seem far more interesting.

To address this, Children's Hospital's Center for Injury Research and Prevention recently launched the Digital Health Initiative at

Besides providing evidence-based Web content, our center supports research on development and evaluation of digital health solutions. We want to assure that the digital promise of improved health is realized.

Here are questions parents should ask while searching online:

Is it from a reputable source?

Look for sites sponsored by a medical school or university, healthcare nonprofit, or the U.S. government. This means addresses that end with .gov or .edu.

Look for citations to journal articles or a peer-review process for recommendations. Look for any commercial interests or conflicts. The source of funding for the website should be explicitly noted.

How current is the information? Online or mobile health sources should show when the information was posted or last reviewed. Out-of-date material may not be wrong, but it's better to rely on newer sources.

Is the advice consistent with what your child's care provider recommends? Beware of recommendations for products or drugs, especially if the group behind the digital health tool is sponsored by a service, company, or product maker. Be sure to discuss any conflicting advice with your child's health team.

Do you have to share personal information to access it? Unless you understand how it will be used, do not share personal information with digital health providers.

Also, don't judge websites just by their slick appearance. Many companies use marketing departments to create them. But is the information credible? It takes time and research to provide reliable health information . . . even in the digital age.