A top-10 list to consider for longer, healthier life
June 29, 2009
Today, more patients than ever obtain their health information from the Internet. Are they using it wisely? Are some Web sites better than others?
Patients want answers to these questions and increasingly ask their physician for advice. Here's mine, based on a review of 10 top-notch sites recently identified by the Medical Library Association (MLA).
Patients should know something about the site's general sponsor, which often indicates something about the site's orientation and purpose. Sites ending in ".org," ".edu," or ".gov" are likely to be associated with professional, academic or governmental institutions. Those ending in ".com" are often linked to private industry and may have a proprietary bias.
The better sites are updated regularly, and most now offer a Spanish version.
The 10 sites below are among the most authoritative and user-friendly I have seen, with much to offer patients and health professionals alike.
www.cancer.gov This site includes several listings, including the American Cancer Society, but the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is the single most comprehensive entry. The NCI home page has links to specific cancers (listed A to Z), drug and cancer term dictionaries, cancer statistics and a toll-free help line. Separate home page tabs direct you to other areas, such as "Research and Funding," which contains physician-oriented information on NCI research as well as grant and training opportunities.
http://familydoctor.org Sponsored by the American Academy of Family Physicians, this site is mostly for patients. Links to conditions and symptoms - in A-to-Z format - afford easy access to comprehensive health information. Other home page links direct you to separate areas for men, women, kids and seniors, and a "smart patient guide" offers everything from "choosing a (family) doctor" to info on insurance and Medicare.
http://Healthfinder.gov Another site mostly for patients, this one is from the Office of Disease Prevention (HHS). Written at a basic level, the site seeks to act as a "reliable source of the health information from the federal government." Home page offerings include an encyclopedia of (1,600) health topics and a "Quick Guide to Healthy Living" providing numerous sources directed toward health screening and prevention. A "Docfinder" link that looked interesting lists every licensed physician in America by state.
http://medlineplus.gov This is produced by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), the world's largest medical library, in cooperation with the NIH. The home page offers "750 health topics on conditions, diseases, and wellness" with links to a medical encyclopedia, medical dictionary and health news. Comprehensive health information is offered in 40 languages.
http://www.medem.com This site initially was formed in 1999 by a consortium of medical organizations like the AMA and several specialty societies to provide a comprehensive medical library for patients and physicians. It has since moved in the direction of using the Web as an interactive tool for patients and physicians by partnering with Google and YouTube to offer "an interactive suite of online communication services."
http://www.cdc.gov As expected, the CDC site emphasizes public health and safety, including links to infectious diseases, travelers' health, vaccines/immunizations, environmental health and emergency preparedness, including bioterrorism. This comprehensive site is consumer-oriented and objectively presented.
http://www.mayoclinic.com The home page offers the usual comprehensive listing of diseases, symptoms, and drugs in A-to-Z format as well as a free Mayo Clinic E-newsletter. However, associated with specific symptoms or conditions are sidebar links which take you to specific proprietary products. These links are identified as "Google Ads," but the mixing of objective data and marketing is disconcerting.
http://www.hivinsite.ucsf.edu This site provides comprehensive, up to date information on HIV/AIDS. Separate links cover current news/research, policy analysis and data by country and region. Unlike the Mayo site above (a ".com") this ".edu" site contains no pharmaceutical ads.
http://www.kidshealth.com Self-described as free of "doctor speak," this well-organized site has separate sections for parents, kids and teens. Sponsored by the Nemours Foundation for Children's Health Media, this kid-oriented site is positive, even humorous, in tone, and ad-free. All content is reviewed by pediatricians or other health experts.
http://www.noah-health.org The New York Online Access to Health is a unique consumer site organized by librarians and health professionals in the N.Y. area. Started in 1994 by four New York City library organizations as a demonstration project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAH offers the usual encyclopedic health topics, plus some health information pertinent to the New York area.
No review would be complete without mention of http://www.webMD.com, the most widely used medical portal in the U.S. WebMD didn't make the MLA's top 10, perhaps because of its commercial orientation. Owned by the HLTH Corp., a company publicly traded on NASDAQ, the site provides health information services to consumers, physicians and other health professionals.
While WebMD does utilize medical reviewers, it features numerous product-specific ads and links to specific health conditions. This can lead one to proprietary sites with video "testimonials" by doctors, where the word "advertisement" appears in small print at the bottom. While the site offers comprehensive information, "caveat emptor!"
I believe educating patients about some of these other health portals would be beneficial to further broaden their perspectives and ability to make even more informed health care decisions.
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