Is WebMD Reliable?

When dealing with a website like WebMD that gives you information and advice about your health, it's only natural to ask whether the information you're getting is coming from a medical professional or a quack.  And, as you would expect, the answer is more complicated than a simple "yes" or no".  Read on to find out more.

The Seal of Approval

WebMD has at least 4 licensed medical doctors permanently on its content editing board, and takes contributions from over 100 other doctors and medical experts from around the United States.  WebMD itself has also been accredited by the Utilization Review and Accreditation Commission -- a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting quality healthcare and health information in the U.S. -- for every year since 2001.  They have also won numerous awards in the American medical community, which you can read about here.

The Question Mark

As credible as WebMD appears to be, there are some people who are wary of trusting WebMD because they believe it is too commercial in nature.  Specifically, they are worried that WebMD's sponsorship relations with pharmaceutical manufacturers cause them to dispense medical advice that makes it more likely for consumers to purchase products from those companies.  For example, WebMD was investigated in 2010 by an American senator for having their depression screening quiz sponsored by the manufacturer of a leading anti-depressant.  Intuitively, you could assume that WebMD offers advice on depression from people who have figured out how to treat it, but some people still believe that there are hidden motives in this model that are more about profiteering than benevolence.

The Bottom Line

To sum up, WebMD has medical doctors permanently on their staff, has earned a seal of approval from America's largest independent healthcare oversight organization for some time now, and has won numerous medical awards, so their information is pretty good.  With that said, WebMD is a commercial website that makes money through advertising and sponsorships, and so some believe that the information on it may be serving as marketing spin as well as -- or even more than -- advice about your well-being.

The solution, then, is to think critically and maintain a bit of skepticism.  The information on WebMD may be factually correct, but it may not necessarily be relevant to you.  It is only meant as a guideline.  The only person who will know what is best for your health with any amount of certainty is a trained health professional, so talk to your doctor about any information or advice you get from WebMD before you do anything else.

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