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Firstly, you need to think how you are going to go about finding the information. Most people either go to a well known website or use a search engine.
Well-known websites are developed usually by ‘professionals’. Website addresses consist of the name of the organisation, the type of organisation (indicated by the domain name) and sometimes the country where they are based. So for example the Leukaemia CARE website (http://www.leukaemiacare.org.uk/) has its name all joined together, then ‘.org’ (domain name), ending with ‘.UK’ (country). The domain names vary depending on the type of organisation: voluntary sector (.org), commercial (.com; .co), network related (.net) and government (.nhs; .gov; .edu). Remember, .org, .net and .com domain names can be registered by anyone so they do not necessarily guarantee trustworthiness.
The advantages of using well known websites are the information will be reliable, up to date, presented to a high standard, displayed with sensitivity, usually quite easy to navigate and may have useful bona fide links to other internet sources of information. The information provided will cover their particular area of interest. If you are looking for something less common, wider ranging or want to find more personal experiences you may decide to use a search engine such as Google, Yahoo or Bing, or go to a professionally developed but consumer led websites such as Twitter, Facebook or YouTube.
Searching in this way will give you a real mixture but may be overwhelming. In addition the output may be much less reliable, potentially distressing and time consuming to filter. After you have ‘clicked’ your search term, the screen will display the list of identified sites. The most relevant will be at the top unless it is an advert, in which case it will have a pale peach coloured box around it. Along with many professionally developed websites you may come across a tilde (~) in the web address. This usually means the page is a personal page or site generated by one individual. Although this doesn’t mean this page is substandard you may want to view the content with caution. There is online training for searching the Internet available from a variety of sources such as the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/webwise/courses/internet-basics/lessons/searching-the-internet).
Secondly, once you have found a website or webpage that looks interesting how do you know it’s reliable? Listed below are some things to look out for:
1. Is the page reviewed and updated regularly (date on the page)?
2. Is the information shown verifiable (referenced, evidence based rather than opinion, authorised by a well know expert or organisation)?
3. Is there an ‘about us’ page which provides information on who they are, where they are based, how to contact them?
4. Are they asking for money?
5. Are they asking for personal information?
7. Are adverts obviously adverts?
8. What is the domain name (commercial or non-commercial; personal or organisation)?
9. Are they claiming things which are too good to be true?
10. Does the site look poor in quality (spelling and grammatical mistakes, broken links to other websites)?
If you are reading up on your own condition then it would probably be a good idea to mention this to your clinical team. Having said all of this, the Internet is a fantastic way to get information on health related topics, connect with others in similar situations and find support. You can access it at the time and place of your choice, pace yourself, digest information over time and share it with others. The Internet is a great resource when used wisely.