Online Medical and Health Sites

My Favorite Web Sites - Winchester Star - 2/1/01
 by Martin Zombeck

This is a biweekly column providing an annotated list of web sites that may be of interest to the community. Each column will list sites that belong to a particular category: search engines, art, online newspapers & magazines, health and medicine, history, business and economics, etc. or sites relevant to a particular season, e.g., skiing, gardening. Most sites will be non-commercial. To make it easier to access the sites, each biweekly column will be posted on the Town of Winchester's web site one week after publication so that the sites can be accessed and bookmarked without having to be typed. Previous columns will be archived at the Winchester site, also.

The web is a useful source of medical information for the layman. Unfortunately, it is also a source of much medical misinformation. Many sites of unknown provenance provide misleading, inaccurate, and merely anecdotal information. Many commercial sites bombard the unwary with advertisements for medical products of dubious value. No one checks the validity of the information of most of the sites that are placed on the web - anyone can set up a web site and start dispensing "medical information". At the moment the underlying principle of the web is caveat emptor not caveat actor. Since most of us are not medical experts, how do we make use of the web to find reliable information? Here are some simple checks that you can perform to gauge the reliability of a medical web site:

  1. Are the author's/institution's credentials clearly displayed? You are most likely to find reliable information at the web sites of medical centers, university hospitals, and U.S. government health institutes.
  2. Are bibliographic references (and links) given to data sources and medical studies?
  3. Is the date of last modification shown? Is the information up-to-date?
Be skeptical and get a second opinion - look up the same information at another site. An informative article on using the web, On-Line Health Care for the Savvy Surfer, can be found at www.winchestermass.org/brody.html.

Here is a short list of web sites that will provide you with high quality on-line medical information, medical reference works, links to U.S. government health sites, information on prescription drugs, the names and credentials of doctors, access to medical journals and libraries, and much more.

Healthfinder, a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
www.healthfinder.gov
Prevention and self-care, guide to reliable health information on the web, government health news, and much more.

National Institutes of Health official site
www.nih.gov
Publications & fact sheets, links to all the institutes of health - cancer, heart, aging, heart, lung, and blood, etc.

Medlineplus Health Information, a service of the National Library of Medicine
www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus
Locations and credentials of doctors, dentists and hospitals, access to organizations, consumer health libraries, international sites, publications, MEDLINE (database of references to journal articles), generic and brand name drug information (precautions, side effects, etc.), information on conditions, diseases and wellness, plus a medical encyclopedia - a goldmine.

University of Iowa's Virtual Hospital
www.vh.org
Peer reviewed information. Includes the Virtual Children's Hospital at www.vh.org/VCH.

RxList
www.rxlist.com
Drug descriptions, contraindications, side effects and drug interactions, warnings and precautions, clinical pharmacology, patient information, indications and dosages.

The Merck Manual of Medical Information - Home Edition
www.merckhomeedition.com
Online version of the popular manual; includes many detailed illustrations.

The New England Journal of Medicine
www.nejm.org
Abstracts of articles are free. The complete article can be ordered.

The National Library of Medicine
www.nlm.nih.gov
The web site of the world's largest medical library. Every significant program of the Library is represented, from medical history to biotechnology.

List of Health and Medical Sites
www.winchestermass.org/medsites.html
Approximately 100 links to medical associations, on-line medical journals and books, medical information, hospitals, US government web sites, and Massachusetts health insurance companies.

The next column will feature online newspapers and magazines. Previous columns with live links can be found at www.winchestermass.org/wstar.

When he is not updating the Town of Winchester Web site (www.winchestermass.org), Martin Zombeck can be found at either the Packer tennis courts or at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where he is a physicist.