Investigating the reliability of online health information

When a volunteer shows up with a suspicious health article found on social media, James steps in to offer advice on evaluating online medical information. Learn how James applies critical thinking skills to determine what health articles can be trusted…

James looking thoughtfulA male festival volunteer looking concerned

While James is setting up the first aid tent for the Salty Creek Community Festival, a concerned volunteer comes in with a suspicious article claiming that prescription drugs cause dementia. The volunteer tells James, the festival’s On-site GP and Health Advisor, that his grandmother saw the article on social media and now doesn’t want to take her medication. He thinks the website seems a bit suspicious, but he doesn’t want his grandmother to get dementia, either. Can the article be trusted?

Read James’s response to learn how he encourages his patients to think about the health information that they find online.

James looking thoughtful with a speech bubble next to him“As a doctor, my patients show me articles like this all the time. The internet has a lot of useful health information, but also a lot of scaremongering and articles that are written from an anti-science perspective. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

Medical professionals love acronyms, and there’s a specific one I use, and recommend my patients use, when investigating the reliability of online information, called the SIFT method. SIFT stands for: Stop, Investigate the source, Find better coverage, and Trace claims, quotes and media back to their original context. Let’s try it with your article.”


This resource has been adapted from: Check, Please! Authored by: Michael Caulfield. License: CC BY: Attribution 4.0

Presentation transcript

James smiling, with a speech bubble next to him“You can apply the SIFT method to anything you find online. It doesn’t take long to do a quick Wikipedia search of a website, and another search or two can lead you to better coverage of the issue or claim. Remember, if you’re not sure whether some health information you’re reading can be trusted, you can always ask your doctor—and of course, you shouldn’t change any medications you’re taking without proper medical advice. Tell your grandmother to come and see me if she’s still concerned.”


Consider the articles below, and use the SIFT method to determine whether their claims can be trusted.

Quiz transcript

James has reassured the volunteer and armed him with some information he can share with his grandmother about the suspicious article she found. When sorting through the many sources of health information online, the SIFT method can help you feel more confident about whether a health article, or any online information, can be trusted. In fact, using this method will help you separate fake news from trustworthy information in all areas of your life, from articles and reviews you might read while planning a holiday, to the links you might include in your own blog post.

Salty Creek Community Festival logo
  • Check out how Meagan, a social media manager with the Rural Refugee Outreach Centre, uses the SIFT method to manage social media responsibly. (8 to 12 minutes)

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