Evaluating health information

April 30, 2020 by Lisa Bywaters0

covid19-typewriter.jpg

“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? So it’d be interesting to check that.” US President Trump, White House press briefing April 23 2020.

OK, so you probably don’t need to be told this but – whatever your political leaning is – please don’t inject, gargle, drink or ingest disinfectant. It’s incredibly dangerous.

Sadly this quote highlights the kind of harmful misinformation circulating widely about COVID-19 and potential treatments or ‘cures’. So it’s more important than ever that we think critically when it comes to the news, be it online, tv, radio, from our family, friends and even the US president.

There are many ways you can do this, but a simple one is the CRAAP test. And no, not that one 💩! The CRAAP test is used by students and scholars and is a simple acronym that helps you ask critical questions about what you’re reading.

CRAAP stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy and Purpose.

Let’s look at each of these:

Currency – is the info up-to-date and timely?

It’s important when we’re evaluating info about COVID-19, and for most health related topics, that the information is up-to-date. So ask yourself:

  • When was it published or posted online? With COVID, the pool of information is growing exponentially and changing day by day. That means that a lot of the information we had when the virus first appeared is probably already out of date. So always check the date.
  • Has it been revised or updated? If the information was written some time ago, check that the author is regularly updating the information and look for the date of the revision.
  • Do the links work? Links to external sites that no longer work are a sign that the information has been around for a while and isn’t being reviewed and updated.

Relevance – does the info suit your needs?

Is the information relevant to you and the specific question/s you want answered? Ask yourself the following:

  • Does the information relate to my query or answer my question? For example if you’re looking for information about how COVID-19 may affect you, does the website/article/blog talk about people like you – your age, your specific health conditions, countries with similar health systems to yours or does it talk about a population of people in general?
  • Who has it been written for? An academic audience? Or everyday people like you and me? While many of us do read articles, documents etc written for an academic audience, unless you have the necessary education and knowledge, some of the content may be difficult to understand or may be misinterpreted.

Authority – where does the information come from?

When you’re reading information about important things like your health, you really do want it to come from an authoritative author/s. Depending on the context of what you’re reading, this expertise may be scientific or medical, or it may be the lived experience of someone with a musculoskeletal condition. So ask yourself:

  • Who’s the author? Are they known for their authority or credibility in this area? Are they qualified to write on the topic?
  • Is there the possibility that a publisher or sponsor creates a conflict of interest or a level of bias? Or are they completely removed from the content?
  • Is there contact information, such as an email address so you can contact the author to ask questions or ask for the sources or basis for any claims they make?

Accuracy – how reliable, factual and truthful is the content?

This is a big one. In this world of fake news we really need to be asking ourselves if the information we’re reading and sharing is actually true. Questions to ask yourself:

  • Where does the information come from? Is it based on scientific studies or personal experience? Both are fine – depending on the context. For example if you’re looking for the latest information on treatments for COVID, you want the latest scientific articles, not the conjecture of a person with no medical or scientific background commenting on Facebook. However personal experience is great if you’re looking for helpful tips for coping with isolation from people just like you.
  • Is the information supported by evidence? And is this evidence credible? Has it been checked by experts in this area and published in a peer-reviewed journal?
  • Has the information been reviewed? In other words has the information been checked by someone else – or several other people, including experts – to ensure it’s accurate?
  • Can you find and verify this information in other places, such as reputable journals, websites or news outlets? Or is it only in one place.
  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased? If it’s scientific, medical or health information, the language should be calm and the information presented in a balanced manner.
  • Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors? This indicates that the work may have been rushed and has not been reviewed by anyone else.

Purpose – why was it created?

Why has the information been created and shared? Is it to inform you, teach you, sell you a product or service, entertain or persuade you? And is this clear? Ask yourself:

  • Is the purpose clear? Remember we can’t always take things at face value. For example an article about a treatment for joint pain may appear to be educating you about joint pain and how to best treat it. But the purpose of the information is to sell a product. Look for underlying interests.
  • Do the authors make their intentions or purposes clear? If they want you to buy their product they should be open about that. Or if they’re affiliated with an organisation that has specific views about treatment options, they should also be clear about that.
  • Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda? And how does this affect the information??
  • Is the information objective and impartial? Again this is important when it comes to health and scientific info, but if the information is clearly a personal blog, then having subjective, personal info may be ok for your purposes.
  • Is the information biased? Are there personal, political, ideological, religious, cultural, commercial or institutional biases?

Come on, seriously?

I know, I know. It seems like a lot of work. But your health is important – so take a little extra time when you’re reading information that may affect your health.

And you don’t have to ask all of these questions for everything you read. Just think ‘CRAAP’ when reading 😉 and remember Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy and Purpose, and you’ll get in the habit of asking these questions more quickly than you know.

By thinking critically about the health information you’re exposed to, you’ll be more informed and able to make decisions based on fact, not fake news.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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