Survey: Nearly One in Four Americans Admit to Being Misled by Health Information from Unverified Sources

Posted on October 6, 2015

KENILWORTH, N.J., Oct. 6, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Merck Manuals (called MSD Manuals outside of the United States and Canada), one of the world's most widely-used medical resources since 1899, today released the results of a survey revealing nearly 1 in 4 Americans (24 percent) say they have been misled by information about an illness or medical symptom from an unverified online source. That figure increases to 30 percent among parents with children under 18 and jumps to 43 percent among millennials (adults age 18-34).

The survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of Merck Manuals also uncovered that 40 percent of Americans are not at all, or not very, confident that the information found on for-profit health websites is credible. Despite this, 1 in 3 Americans (33 percent) admit they don't look to confirm the credibility of an online health site before searching for information.

"Clicking the first article that pops up in an online search may be the easiest course when researching health issues, but it can also be dangerous if the information doesn't come from a credible source," said Dr. Robert Porter, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of the Merck Manuals and MSD Manuals. "These results underscore the need for greater access to and awareness of highly credible health information."

To help consumers confirm if a website is credible, The Manuals have developed the STANDS method – an easy-to-remember solution using six essential elements:

Source – Does the resource cite recognized authorities and provide their credentials?

Transparent – Is it open and obvious whether the site's mission is educational or commercial?

Accessible – Is the site available without registration and is there a way for users to contact someone with questions or concerns?

Neutral – Is the information available purely as a resource, or does the site benefit financially from what its users do (such as buying products or visiting advertised websites)?

Documented – Is the site updated when needed by recognized medical experts?

Secure – Can users access content without forfeiting personal information?

This focus on health information credibility is part of The Manuals' overarching mission throughout Global Medical Knowledge 2020 – a worldwide initiative to make current and accurate medical information accessible to nearly three billion consumers and health care professionals by 2020. An initial wave of survey results released in June revealed issues with accessing health information and barriers to increasing personal levels of medical information.

"The internet will continue to be flooded with new health information and websites, which is why we need to stress to consumers the importance of identifying credible health information sources," Dr. Porter said. and are authored by 350 independent medical experts from around the world. It is available at no cost, requires no registration and the user experience is not compromised by advertisements or commercial messaging.

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