Five Reliable Online Medical Resources: Your doctor visits these websites.
A recent Nielsen survey indicated about 60 percent of all patients consult the Internet before they consult their doctors. The majority of survey participants said they use online medical resources to assess the seriousness of their symptoms and develop questions for their doctors. However, enough respondents said they use the Internet for figuring out their own treatments that experts issued stern cautions: Educate yourself on the web, but always take urgent conditions and concerns directly to your physician.
Disclaimers, caveats, cautions and special considerations.
As you know, different websites have different degrees of credibility and dependability. Therefore, approach with caution and your critical faculties engaged. Pseudo-science and snake oil sales thrive on the Internet. In general if the domain name ends in “.edu” or “.gov,” you may rely on its objectivity and timeliness. Advocates of “non-traditional” medicines often sound authoritative, using expressions like “recent research indicates” or “emerging science suggests”; unless a site indicates a reliable source for its research and data, you should distrust the facts and statistics. Similar caution applies to major pharmaceutical companies’ web sites because the writers have a vested interest in presenting information from clinical trials in the very best light. Most of all, when Internet medical resources detail symptoms, you frequently will feel them; when the sites show pictures, your wounds will look “just like” the pictures. Instead of developing your own diagnosis and treatment, use information from the Internet to guide development of intelligent questions for your physician.
ou absolutely can depend on these five leading sites:
Medline Plus (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus) Developed and hosted by the National Institutes of Health, “MedlinePlus” is the most reliable source of “official,” definitive discussions of common conditions, diagnoses and treatments. Comprehensive and detailed enough that many medical students consult it for quick answers to their questions, the site nevertheless is written “in language you can understand,” and when writers must resort to difficult medical terminology, they clearly define and explain their terms. Produced by the National Library of Medicine, the site is probably the most authoritative and timely of the Internet’s medical resources.
Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) The perfect complement to Medline Plus, the Centers for Disease Control site contains concise discussions of diseases that affect millions of Americans. The site’s most valuable tool, however, is its up-to-date compilation of late-breaking news from medicine. Unlike network and wire service reports about health threats and medical issues, CDC.gov delivers accurate information without distortion or sensation. In the same way policy-makers depend on the New York Times and the Washington Post as their “papers-of-record,” top-tier journalists and influential decision-makers rely on CDC.gov as their website-of-record.
Web MD (www.webmd.com) Like the other top medical sites. Web MD offers reliable, up-to-the-minute information about health issues A to Z. Unlike the others, though, it includes an excellent “symptom checker,” a valuable tool for helping you determine whether or not you should go to the hospital, visit your primary care person, or simply gut-it-out with OTC medications and rest. The doctors and staff writers explain even the most complicated subjects in ordinary language; they also offer one of the web’s most accurate, detailed, objective discussions of the most often prescribed medications, their benefits and side-effects. Like the other reputable sites, you may follow Web MD via Twitter and Facebook.
Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.com) Arguably the most academic among the elite medical sites and therefore the most detailed and best documented. Mayo Clinic’s own “clinical experts provide current medical information and news on health topics.” In fact, the site’s writers heavily emphasize “current,” and many medical journalists depend on Mayo Clinic for up-to-the-minute news from medical and pharmaceutical research. Like all the other top sites, the Mayo Clinic’s is easy to navigate and features an extremely powerful onsite search engine.
Everyday Health (www.everydayhealth.com) Arguably the most accessible and down-to-earth among the top medical web sites, Everyday Health features not only expert discussions of common conditions and top-rate medical reporting from the major news services but also a variety of user-friendly tools for tracking weight loss, exercise, and medications. Everyday Health also includes hundreds of blogs from regular people who cope with the full range of serious conditions. The site’s editors monitor the blog posts to assure their accuracy, and the blog writers share a common gift for “keeping it real.” Best of all, you may sign-up for daily updates about your health issues.
No substitutes for professional care.
All five of these sites contain extremely powerful warnings: Users should not rely on information from the sites as a substitute for a physician’s care. The more serious your symptoms, the more pain or discomfort you experience, the more you should log off and go to your doctor. Do not take two paragraphs and call in the morning. Use the worldwide web to learn the basics, and let your healthcare professionals do the hard work.
Jen Findley is a full-time writer for higher ed blogs and journals nationwide. Interested in a career in the healthcare industry? Check out the University of Southern California Health Degree or Berkeley Health Degree for program details.