Reliability of pharmaceutical information

All information in the Internet should be reviewed critically.

The DARTS checklist below lists things that can help you to assess the reliability of pharmaceutical information in the Internet. The same criteria can be used for assessing any other written information.

DARTS is an acronym of the words Date, Author, References, Type and Sponsor.

DATE: Is the information up-to-date?

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 A medical publication older than two years is often outdated.

AUTHOR: Who is the author of the text? Is he/she a qualified expert in his/her 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).

REFERENCES: Does the site tell you what its information is based on? Can the references be traced easily?

Information can be based on experience or research. Information based on research is considered to be most reliable. All claims must be based on appropriate objective evidence. The best evidence is produced by controlled clinical studies. An individual expert'’s opinion without any cited reference is the weakest kind of evidence. The evidential value of case reports lies between an opinion and clinical research.

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

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

A text might have multiple purposes. The primary purpose of advertisements and opinion pieces is usually not to provide information, so they should be considered less reliable. Be critical towards the language in advertisements. The following types of expressions in particular should serve as warning signs: ”100% success”, ”sensational results”, ”scientific breakthrough”, ”miracle cure” or ”a secret formula”. Moreover, do not trust any promises of an instant cure.

SPONSOR: Who finances the page? A sponsor might have an effect on the point of view of the site.

A site must clearly express any outside support it receives (a commercial or non-commercial organisation). This information might be available in a separate section (for example About this site or Terms and Conditions of Use). Pay attention to any sponsors the site has. Sponsored information usually concentrates on describing a single treatment option or preparation.The address of a website can provide clues of the owner and intention of the site. The organisation behind the Finnish .fi suffix could be a private or a public sector organisation. On English-language pages, the .gov suffix indicates an authority, .edu an educational organisation, .org a non-commercial organisation and .com a commercial organisation.