Often, when you have a mental health issue, you, or even your provider, can forget about the rest of you. People with mental health conditions are at a higher risk of developing other physical conditions such a heart disease or diabetes. This website will teach you how to find and use online health information. It will give you tips to use when you talk about your health with your provider, your family, or your friends. You will not find a lot of information here about your health but you will find a great deal about developing your “health literacy” so you can understand more about your mental and physical health.
Evaluating Health Information
Understanding Medical Numbers
Where can you go to get an answer?
Get An Answer
- Ask your doctor. Your doctor is a reliable source of information, since he/she is an expert and knows your health. Talking with your doctor and sharing your concerns and questions is very important. Sometimes, though, it can take some time to make an appointment to speak with your doctor, so you can also work with -
- Other health professionals. Pharmacists, nurses, therapists, and case managers can be helpful to you as well to answer your questions.
- Online resources. The Internet has a lot of health information. Some of it is reliable and trustworthy. Some of it is not. See the Evaluating Health Information video on this page and the accompanying handout to learn how to tell the difference. You should not make any major changes to what you are doing about your health without discussing it with your doctor.
- Friends and family. Family members, friends, and other people around you might also have helpful suggestions and advice. However keep in mind that unless they are health care professionals, the people around you may not have the same knowledge and expertise as your doctor. Friends and family may be important sources of emotional and practical support, but they may not be experts about specific health information.
- Libraries. With the Internet, we almost forgot about the existence of “real” books. Libraries can provide you with high quality information. You may also find kind librarians who will help you to search and find any information that you need!
- Associations and local organizations. There are many local and national organizaations and groups that you can get access to that can be an additional source of help. You could research if there are any groups, organizations, or clubs in your area and explore them. These organizations can range from a large national organization like the American Heart Association (they have local chapters, or groups), to a small neighborhood group that perhaps gets together for an exercise class. (Your local library can help you with this topic also)
Build a Great Web Search
Let's say you have decided to find out more about diabetes, because you have just been told you have diabetes. If you go online to Google and type in “diabetes”, you will get a huge list of results! If you think that there must be a better way, you are right! Let's try it this way:
First, use a paper and pencil
- A little preparation first!
- Diving head-first into an online search without planning can make you feel lost, overwhelmed or both. Before you go to your computer or mobile device, plan out your search.
- What is your health question? Don't think just about a new diagnosis or a medication. Think more about what information would help you. Do you want to know about a new diet to help control your diabetes? Do you want to know if your new medication had bad side effects?
- For example, think more specifically than just “diabetes”, or “glipizide”. Can you be specific? “Diets for people who have diabetes”, or “side effects of glipizide” are better searches.
When you are ready to look online
- A reputable medical site might be a good place to start.
- MedlinePlus is a reputable medical site that is managed by the National Library of Medicine. Some features are: a medical dictionary, available in multiple languages, lot of easy-to-understand information.
- The URL is https://medlineplus.gov/
Click below to read more about looking for answers online, or click the text above (Connect the Dots) to learn more about how to use what you have learned.
How do I search for accessible information?
Let's do a search!
Medline Plus is a reputable, health-related website managed by the National Library of Medicine. It is easy to use and designed for the general public.
For a short YouTube video about MedLine Plus, click on the blue text. Go To Youtube Video
If you would rather follow along, here are some instructions with screenshots. Ready to explore?
Go to Medlineplus.gov, and click on "Health Topics", where the red arrow is pointing.
Once you click there, you will see three columns: Body Location/Systems, Disorders and Conditions, and Demographic Groups. The second item under Disorders and Conditions, with the red arrow pointing to it, is Diabetes Mellitus. Click there.
You will see a list of topics which may be of interest to you, such as:
- Diabetes Medicines
- Diabetic Diet
- and many others. Make sure to scroll down to see them all!
All of the topics are set up the same way as this one. The circled links are the place to start.
The Summary section gives you a definition of the topic and tells you why it's important.
The Start Here section can show you additional things about diabetic complications that may be interesting to you. A number of these short articles are available in Spanish.
Diagnosis and Tests will explain any tests that are used.
There are other topics to explore as well, like statistics and research about diabetes, or journal articles. Now that you know how to travel the road, try a different topic to explore!
How do I know if the information is good?
I have some information! Now what?
Finding information is good! However, once you have found some information, you now have to judge if it is accurate and trustworthy information. You might need to make two types of judgment:
- if the information is accurate and trustworthy
- if the information applies to you and your situation
Let's take these one at a time.
Is it accurate and trustworthy?
There is a lot of information out there, and a lot of it is not completely accurate. Maybe you looked up a symptom or a medication on the internet and you get "About 6,000,000 results." On this very long list, probably at the top, are one or two sites that provide good information. How can you tell? Here are some easy things you can check to help you decide if a website has accurate information.
- Is the website current?
- Is there a date on the homepage showing when it was created or last updated? Medical information can change very quickly. Sometimes something that was accurate three years ago is now replaced by something new.
- Who wrote the information on the website?
- Was it written by a medical provider, by a hospital, or by a government agency? Or is it hard to tell who wrote it?
- You can often figure out who wrote the website by looking for an "About Us" page on the website. A site written by a group of writers, and maintained by professional site editors, is more likely to have reliable information than one written by a single person calling themselves "an expert."
- Why did they write the website?
- Are there a lot of advertisements? In other words, is the website trying to sell you something? If a website is trying to sell you a medication, or videos, or some other product or service, then you can't be sure that their goal is to provide useful and objective information.
- Does the website focus on one thing, like a specific medication? Medical conditions have many parts that you would want to know about, not just one treatment or idea.
- Does the site have pop-up boxes asking you to give them information? You shouldn't need to give a website your name or other information to get helpful information.
- Look for websites that do not contain a lot of ads and that are sponsored by trustworthy sources, such as a hospital or a professional association like the American Medical Association.
There are other tools you can find on the internet that can help you to ask the right questions about a health website you find. This site, from the National Library of Medicine, can be especially helpful: https://medlineplus.gov/evaluatinghealthinformation.html
A good and simple tool to use that can help you answer all of these questions is called the CRAAP test*. See the video at the top of this page and well as a handout to the left to start applying CRAAP to the sites you find.
Does it apply to me and my situation?
As we have said, information can come from a lot of places. You can get information from reputable websites, as we mentioned above. You might also get health information from online message boards, social media, television, friends, family, or other people you talk to. Information received like this should be judged for accuracy, as we said above, and also may need to be judged for its appropriateness to you. Here are some suggestions to consider:
- Share the information with your doctor. Your doctor is one of the most appropriate people to guide you in your learning process. Talk with your doctor. Taking an active part in your relationship with your provider is an important part of making decisions and taking action with your health.
- Think of your values. Is it important to consider your values when making decisions about your health. Think of what is important to you in your life. Your values affect your behavior. If your health is important to you, then you are more likely to take actions to improve your health.
- What is happening around you? The people and situations around you have an important impact on your health choices and behavior. Think of how your parents, family members, partner and friends talk about and deal with their health. Try to think about, and pay attention to, the health behaviors of those around you. Do you need to bring changes to your personal circle of advisors? How can you do this?
* Blakeslee, Sarah (2004). "The CRAAP Test". LOEX Quarterly. 31 (3)
How can I tell when it's time to look for help?
An important part of managing your health and wellness is recognizing when something is wrong. Everyone is bothered by different things, and may have different signs or symptoms of illness. Here are some tips to help you decide if you should seek more information, support and help for your health and wellbeing.
- Are your symptoms affecting your physical functioning? For example, feeling unusually tired or having no energy, or pain in doing everyday things like walking, might be a sign to see your doctor.
- Are your symptoms affecting your social life? For example, reducing your social life or having less fun because of your symptoms may be a signal that you should look for more information or for help.
- Are your symptoms affecting your work life? Job performance can suffer when you are having physical or mental health symptoms. You may feel more tired at work, notice you are distracted, or have trouble managing tasks that you were able to manage before. These might be a signal to take action for your health.
- Are your symptoms affecting your family life? Symptoms can change your relationship with your spouse, your parents, or your children. You may have trouble with the responsibilities that you were able to handle before. Maybe your family members have said something to you about your changed role in the family. This is also a sign that you may need to look for more information or for help.