The Net is awash in medical information. The hard part is finding advice you can trust. Some sites display symbols indicating that they are committed to quality standards set by organizations such as the Utilization Review Accreditation Commission (URAC) or Health on the Net Foundation (HON). But the acronyms don't tell you everything. HON sites are largely self-policing, for example. And some good, smaller sites can't afford the more thorough URAC accreditation. What's more, many sites have vested interests--sponsorship by clinics specializing in a particular treatment, say, or by drugmakers whose products are recommended on the site. To learn more, always click the "about us" tab, and make sure the articles were written or vetted by medical professionals. While you're at it, check to see when the information was last updated. Such caveats aside, there is much credible health information on the Net. Here are some sites worth adding to your "favorites" list.
THE BEST MEDICAL WEB SITES
National Library of Medicine, part of the government's National Institutes of Health
Home to health sites such as Medline Plus, a patient-friendly location for looking up drugs and medical conditions. Gives the latest health news and a link for info on clinical trials in your area. Check out MEDLINE/PubMed, where you can research citations and summaries of articles in medical journals.
Getting the full text of an article cited on MEDLINE/PubMed can be a chore.
National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health
Comprehensive and authoritative source of information on mental disorders and treatments. Posts breaking news and information about clinical trials.
After the initial screens, this mostly text site lacks color and razzle-dazzle.
U.S. Health & Human Services Dept.
Well-organized info on everything from breast-feeding to menopause, as well as news about women's health. Many reports on the site are available in Spanish.
Bland compared with chatty but less authoritative women's sites.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education & Research, an affiliate of Mayo Clinic of Rochester, Minn.
Comprehensive site guides patients who are weighing treatment options. Tools let you calculate everything from body mass index to pregnancy due date. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic and Mayo Medical School contribute to and review articles, except those on drugs, herbs, and supplements, which are licensed from outside sources.
A nonprofit made up of voluntary health agencies, professional associations, and medical nonprofits and businesses
One-stop directory of links to groups like the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Assn., and the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization. The council serves as a lobbying/advocacy organization for health agencies, with positions posted clearly on the site.
Contains little original content.
Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention, at the Harvard School of Public Health
Readers can fill out online questionnaires for a quick assessment of their risk for diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, stroke, and various cancers. The site ranks your risk. It also throws in tips on lowering risk and praise for what the user is doing right.
There's no posting date on individual articles, although the entire site was updated in June.
Express Scripts, a major pharmacy benefits manager
Allows users to check for potential interactions between the drugs they use, as well as with food and alcohol. Also lets users compare side effects of different drugs. Site tells whether a generic is available, provides a picture of the pill, and cites uses for the medication.
Though it tracks 5,000 drugs, over-the-counter meds, and supplements, it's not all-inclusive.
Quest Diagnostics, a leading diagnostics-testing company
Its health library offers information on medical tests, medications, support groups, and general health topics. There's also a list of frequently ordered tests where you can find out how a test is performed and its risks.
Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Its library provides physician summaries of the journal articles that have influenced the standard of care for various types of cancer, as well as free access to the table of contents and abstracts from many cancer-related journals. There are also reviews of books and videos for cancer patients, recent news, and accessible background info on cancer and treatment options.
The clinical trials link refers patients only to trials at the University of Pennsylvania cancer center
By Carol Marie Cropper