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Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

An old print add claims that "cocaine toothache drops" will provide an instant cure.

 

Evaluating Web-Based Health Information

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), the number of web sites offering health-related resources, including CAM, continues to grow every day. Many sites are useful, but others may present information that is inaccurate or misleading. When you visit a site for the first time, it's important to evaluate how reliable it is.  The CRAAP test is a useful tool for evaluating web-based health information.  CRAAP is an acronym for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. 

Items in green are specific to evaluating CAM and other medical information.

Currency: the timeliness of the information

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Is the information current or out-of date for your topic?
  • Are the links functional?   
  • When will the drugs or procedures studied be available to the public?
  • Was the study done with animals or with people? In general, research done on animals is still a long way from having the product available for humans.

Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable using this source for a research paper?

Authority: the source of the information

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • Are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or e-mail address?
  • What does the URL say about the sponsor?
    •  examples:
      • .com (commercial), .edu (educational), .gov (U.S. government)
      • .org (nonprofit organization), or
      • .net (network)
  • How does the site pay for its existence?  
    • Does it sell advertising?
    • Is it sponsored by a drug company?

Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?  Keep in mind that testimonials, anecdotes, unsupported claims, and opinions are not the same as objective, evidence-based information. Remember: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?  If a Web site is presenting medical information, people with credible professional and scientific qualifications should review the material before it is posted. Check for the presence of an editorial board, or other indications of how information is selected and reviewed.
  • Has there been time to determine all of the side affects of the drug or supplement reviewed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem biased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

Purpose: the reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information? to inform? teach? sell? entertain? persuade?  Look for an "About This Site" link on the home page. There you should find a clear statement of purpose, which will help you evaluate the trustworthiness of the information.
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact? opinion? propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Is there any bias?  Does the information presented support an advertiser or company?
  • Who funded the research behind the information?  Is it the same company who is selling the product?