How to assess COVID-19 information online: fact, fiction, or something in between

There are so many studies on COVID-19 and vaccinations for people to read and react to. How do we know / decide which study is accurate and useful for patients and which studies are not when it comes to COVID-19?

“There is more information on the Internet than anyone can digest,” says Melanie Swift, MD, infectious disease physician at the Mayo Clinic. “It can be hard to know what to believe. Depending on who runs the website or shares their interpretation of medical studies, this can be reliable, but it could be a misinterpretation of the data or completely falsified information.

Here are a few tips:

• Studies indexed in PubMed, published in reputable journals, and scientifically peer-reviewed are considered reputable.

• Studies that can be searched in Google Scholar may also have been peer reviewed, but it may be a “preprint” that has not yet been peer reviewed. peer review or that has not been accepted by a reputable scientific journal. Preprints are labeled as such and should be interpreted with caution.

Use reliable sources such as:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (a branch of the National Institutes of Health) – these websites will end in .gov.

The Mayo Clinic and other academic medical centers.

Medical professional societies such as the American Medical Association or the Infectious Diseases Society of America

Be careful:

• Websites featuring medical experts who are not trained in a relevant specialty or approved by a reputable medical center or legitimate medical company. “Specialists in infectious diseases or pulmonary medicine and intensive care are ideal sources of information on COVID-19. If the website or organization only features one or two independent specialty physicians, be skeptical, ”says Swift.

• Social media posts from people sharing opinions, anecdotes or their interpretation of medical studies. “People will generally say that they have done their own ‘research’, but that may mean that they have only looked for studies that support their bias. These people may not have the expertise to judge the validity of a medical study, justify their personal beliefs or promote a political agenda, ”adds Swift.

• Claims of alternative or “miracle” drugs that seem unrealistic, without studies published in reputable medical journals. When highly effective treatments are confirmed by valid scientific studies, they are made public by the CDC, medical centers, medical companies, and the reliable media.

A tutorial and a checklist:

“The National Library of Medicine provides a helpful tutorial on how to rate a health-related website, while the Surgeon General recommends a quick health misinformation checklist,” says Swift.

Some of the tips they offer include:

• Have you checked with the CDC or local public health department to see if there is any information about the claim made?

• Have you asked a trustworthy healthcare professional, such as your doctor or nurse, if they have any additional information?

• Did you type the request into a search engine to see if it was verified by a credible source?

• Did you check the “About Us” page on the website to see if you can trust the source?

• If you are not sure, do not share!


The information in this post was accurate at the time of posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, as well as guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date.

About Mark A. Tomlin

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