How can I assess the reliability of drug information?

How can I assess the reliability of drug information?

Be critical of all information found online.

The following DARTS checklist lists how you can assess the reliability of drug information found online. The same criteria can also be used to assess the reliability of other written information.

AUTHOR: Who is the author of the text? Is the author an expert in their field?

Any medical or healthcare-related advice must be given by a professional in the respective field, and the author’s qualifications must be stated. Details about the author(s) may also be found under a separate title (for example About this site, Advisory Board or Editorial Board).

DATE: Is the information current?

A trustworthy site clearly indicates the date when the information was produced and last updated. A medical publication older than two years is often outdated.

TYPE: What is the purpose of the text? Is it an advertisement, an opinion piece, or does it seek to provide objective information?

Texts may have different purposes. Advertisements and opinion pieces can be considered less reliable because providing information is not their primary purpose.

Be critical towards advertisement language. For example, the following phrases should sound the alarm bell: “100% success”, “sensational results”, “scientific breakthrough”, “miracle cure” or “a secret formula”. Moreover, do not trust any promises of an instant cure.

SPONSOR: Who funds the website? Sponsorship might influence the chosen viewpoint.

Any external support (commercial or non-commercial) must be clearly stated on the website. This information might be available in a separate section (for example About this site or Terms and Conditions of Use). Always pay attention to sponsors. Sponsored information typically focuses on describing a single treatment option or product. The address of a website can provide clues of the owner and the origin of the site. A site ending with the suffix .fi might be owned by a public or private entity. On English sites, the suffix .gov indicates an authority and suffix .edu an educational organisation. The suffix .org refers to a non-commercial organisation and .com to a commercial organisation. Note that now-a-days basically anyone can purchase and use suffixes. The address of a commercial organisation might not end in .com, for example. These are just examples, there are many more possible website address suffixes.

REFERENCE: Does it say what the information is based on? Can the references be easily traced?

Information can be based on experience or studies. Study-based information is considered the most reliable. All arguments should be based on appropriate and unbiased evidence. Results from controlled clinical trials are considered the best evidence. An opinion of an individual expert without any references is the weakest form of evidence. The evidential value of case histories lies between opinions and clinical trials.

Any information on the page should contain references to the source of the information, i.e. the study report that the information is based on. The references must at least indicate the name of the source or study and place of publication.