HEALTH INFO ONLINE
Medical research that once required hours in a library can now be done with the click of a mouse, thanks to the Internet. But is the information accurate and of good quality? It depends on the source.
More and more, both patients and health care professionals are going on-line for health information. A few clicks lets you review medical journals, learn about clinical trials and new medications, or even join a support group. However, it's not enough just to learn how to locate information. Equally important is knowing how to evaluate its quality.
"When you're getting health information online, the first question you should ask yourself is who produced it," says Janice Skica, MS, director of the Health Sciences Library at UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM). "Books and journals go through rigorous peer review, but the same is not always true with online information."
To determine who's producing on-line information, first check the suffix on the Web site address, says Skica. Addresses that end in .gov and .edu are from government agencies and universities, and tend to be good, reliable sources of information. The suffix .org represents non-profit or for-profit organizations. Their information is service-oriented, but may be slanted toward a particular point of view. Addresses ending in .com are generally commercial and often designed to sell a product. "While the commercial sites may be reliable, they should not be your sole source of information," Skica says.
Knowing who produced a Web site helps you evaluate its reliability. For instance, Web sites sponsored by pharmaceutical companies utilize a subtle, "soft sell" approach. The information may be helpful, but biased. Many sites quote experts without mentioning that the company employs them, or tout their own products while making no mention of other treatment options.
Also check when the site was last updated. If the date is old, or the site is undated, the information may not be current.
The University Library system maintains a central Web site which includes information common to all of the campus libraries (online catalog, bibliographic and full-text databases, Internet resources, etc.). The campus libraries also have their own Web sites, which include information common to the entire library system plus information unique to each library.
The UMDNJ Libraries Web sites adhere to principles established by the Health on the Net Foundation Code of Conduct (HONcode) for medical and health Web sites. The HONcode addresses one of the main issues of the Internet: the reliability and credibility of medical and health information. The HONcode does not rate the quality of the information provided by a Web site. It only defines a set of rules designed so the reader always knows the source and purpose of the data he or she is reading.
"The explosion of electronic information has radically changed the role of the librarian," says Judith S. Cohn, assistant university librarian and director of the Newark campus's Smith Library. "We are now serving both as navigators of the system and evaluators of information."
Navigating the system is easier than finding your way around Newark or New Brunswick. By going to the University Library system Web site (http://www. umdnj.edu.librweb) you will see a map linking you to each campus library's Web site. These Web sites are busy places. From December 1, 1998 through February 17, 1999, all of UMDNJ's library Web sites (the central site plus all campus sites) were visited a total of 104,556 times. The central Web site receives an average of 14,500 visits each month.
An influx of new dollars is providing for the acquisition of new full-text electronic resources, including library technology training laboratories in both New Brunswick and Newark.
The magazine of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey