Four Dos and Don’ts When Using Online Health Information

We all do it or have done it before – looked online when you developed a symptom or experienced a new injury. Sometimes your search leaves you more confused and with far more questions than you had when you started. Sometimes you can find so much that you feel like you’re suffering from information overload, or TMI.

This explosion of online health information can be valuable. Yet there are downsides, like difficulty separating the good information from the bad online, and the danger of self-diagnosis. Some people rely only on their own findings and forego seeing a health professional altogether.

In Ontario, 26 colleges regulate over 400,000 health professionals. These colleges aren’t schools. They are regulators that license and set the requirements for anyone wishing to practise a certain profession. They also ensure professionals maintain their knowledge and skills, and hold these professionals accountable for their conduct and practice. If you do get information from other sources, regulated health professionals can use their knowledge and judgment to decide if, when and how to apply it.

Here are four dos and don’ts to help you use online health information to your best advantage:

1) If desired, do some research before seeing a health professional to help you organize your questions. Leave it to the professional to provide answers and help you understand what you’ve accessed on your own.

2) Don’t rely exclusively on online information to make important choices about your health, or to decide between care or treatment options. Sometimes online information is misleading or incomplete and may not apply to your situation.

3) Do ask a health professional to recommend websites or apps, including ones from trusted sources that have objective information.

4) Don’t be afraid to raise the information you found online during your appointment. It is not a challenge to your health professional’s authority.

Each college maintains profiles of all practitioners they regulate on a public register on their website. The public registers, sometimes called “Find a …” or “Search for …”, can help connect you with the right health professional. You can find the full list of regulated health professions and access the public registers at

The website represents the 26 health regulatory colleges which collectively oversee more than 400,000 healthcare professionals in Ontario. Learn. Find. Get help. Be heard.