Your Health, In Your Hands
Most people would like to be well-informed health consumers, but finding credible, reliable, freely accessible health information on the Web can be a challenge. The Health Web Guide
helps you locate online medical dictionaries and encyclopedias, health-specific search engines, thorough overviews of illnesses, injuries, diseases and conditions, and advice on seeking professional medical help. A Spanish-language version of the Health Web Guide
is also available.
The Internet can be a great place to find health information, but because health is a serious topic and the information you find could have potentially great significance, it's important to ensure that you receive accurate information from reliable sources. The following tips can help you evaluate online health information.
- Remain skeptical at all times. The focus of your search should be finding credible information, rather than finding what you want to hear.
- Always verify information by confirming it with multiple sources. If you find a few unrelated, credible Web sites in agreement on a medical issue, your research is probably done. The same cannot be said if you read something just once.
- No single characteristic will tell you if a Web site is reliable. Each site must be examined independently to ensure that the available information is accurate, up to date, objective and authoritative. Your first stop when visiting a health Web site should be the "About Us" section. Look for information on the site’s authority, funding, credibility and privacy. The following are questions to ask yourself every time you visit a health site:
- Authority: Who created the Web site? Why was the information made available? What are the authors’ credentials? Look for degrees, fields of specialty and experience. Do they provide their contact information?
- Funding: Who is funding the site? Is the Web site operated by a pharmaceutical company or business that is endorsing a specific product? Is the site trying to sell you something? Does the site have advertisements? Are they clearly labeled, or do they blend with the general information?
- Credibility: Where does the information come from? What is the site’s editorial policy? Do experts review the information? Is the information thorough and complete? Does the author address every issue that could be valuable to your understanding of the topic? When was the site last updated? When was the information posted on the site? When was it last reviewed? Do the authors make unbelievable or emotional claims? Do they advertise miracle cures? Does the information conflict with accepted medical logic?
- Be sure to read a Web site’s disclaimer to learn about the conditions under which the information presented is being made available. The disclaimer can usually be found at the bottom of a site’s homepage or in the "About Us" section. Be wary of the authenticity of any Web site that does not have a disclaimer of some sort.
- A useful tip for judging the quality of health Web sites is to look for accreditation. This is also generally found in the "About Us" section at the bottom of the homepage. The URAC and the Health On the Net Foundation (HON) are two organizations that examine Web sites for quality. If you see their seals of approval you can be confident that you're receiving valid health information.
For advice on assessing credibility …
has a comprehensive link directory to sources containing tips, advice and information on evaluating online health information.
For tips on which sites to avoid …
is published primarily by a retired psychiatrist who has battled misinformation about health topics for three decades. One of the most useful features is the page on avoiding a "quacky" Web site
For accreditation information …
is a nonprofit organization that promotes health care quality through accreditation and certification programs. URAC accredited Web sites are rigorously evaluated using more than 50 standards to ensure quality of content and services. Their seal of approval validates a site’s accuracy and accountability.
Health On the Net Foundation
has HONcode, a Web site evaluation program that verifies the quality of sites by reviewing them against eight ethical principles: authoritativeness, complementarity, privacy, attribution, justifiability, transparency, financial disclosure and sponsorship.
The Web is host to a substantial number of reliable, comprehensive health sites. If you know what type of information you're looking for, chances are you'll be able to bypass the search engines altogether and go straight to one of these information portals. Visit the top health Web sites below to supplement your doctor's advice.
- Once you've familiarized yourself with the top health sites on the Web, you may feel comfortable bypassing health search engines and going directly to the information sources. Or use SweetSearch, findingDulcinea's search engine that only searches sites that have been evaluated for reliability.
For leading online-only sources …
is the most visited consumer health Web site and has authoritative information on many health-related topics. Look for health news, extensive information on diseases and conditions, thorough topical health guides, a family health center, a lifestyle section and more.
is owned and operated by WebMD. The site contains more than 900 articles written by physicians. Each article is reviewed by one or more physician editors before publication.
owned and operated by WebMD, is a comprehensive health portal published by a network of more than 70 medical professionals. In addition to the wealth of articles, visitors can access the authoritative MedTerms medical dictionary
is a long-established Web site that features consumer health information generated by Harvard Medical School and other leading medical organizations. It is now owned by Aetna Insurance. InteliHealth's straightforward design makes it simple to find disease information, medication information or health information specific to your sex or age group.
is a portal of information for kids and teens, and their parents, and is part of the Nemours Foundation, a nonprofit created by Alfred I. duPont. The site is arranged into three portals: one for parents, one for kids and one for teenagers.
is a resource operated by the combined health professionals of the University of Cincinnati, Case Western Reserve University and The Ohio State University. Its most useful feature is "Ask an Expert," where health experts have already provided answers to more than 38,000 consumer health questions.
is a nonprofit formed in 1975 that focuses on developing consumer health content to help people make health decisions that are right for them. The Healthwise database powers the topics for WebMD as well as hundreds of hospital and health plan Web sites. Healthwise also sells a print version of the "Healthwise Handbook
," an inexpensive self-care guide.
For sites published by medical groups …
is a Web site operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians, a national medical organization representing family physicians, family practice residents and medical students. One of the more useful tools is a "Search by Symptom
" section, which attempts to diagnose your illness based on your responses to questions about your symptoms.
For sites published by leading medical authorities …
The Merck Manual
has been published since 1899 and is a best-selling medical text used by physicians. A "Home Edition" of the manual was introduced in 1997, and is now online. The site states that the manual covers "disorders, who is likely to get them, their symptoms, how they're diagnosed, how they might be prevented, and how they can be treated; also provides information about prognosis."
has a reputation as one of the most respected health care facilities in the country. Its site is dedicated to providing the public with the most up-to-date and comprehensive information, and includes a range of subject guides on diseases and conditions, and drugs and medications.
is a highly acclaimed site about emerging medical therapies and clinical research. The site includes listings of more than 41,000 active industry and government-sponsored clinical trials, as well as new drug therapies in research and those recently approved by the FDA.
For federal government resources …
is a Web site of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services together with other federal agencies. It has been recognized as a key resource for finding the best government and nonprofit health and human services information on the Internet. Find links to carefully selected information and Web sites from more than 1,500 health-related organizations.
is a government site that draws from the resources of the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. It includes a directory of more than 700 health topics, a medical encyclopedia, a medical dictionary, drug and supplement information, and a health care directory. The health topic directory offers hundreds of links to external Web sites for each topic.
presents information about ongoing clinical trials of new medical therapies. Search by drug intervention, condition, location or sponsor.
is a Web site of the National Women's Health Information Center. Look for women's health news, extensive topic listings, organizations, events and more.
Anyone not covered by an employer's insurance policy appreciates what a luxury health care can be. In this section we'll lay out your health insurance options as clearly as possible and direct you to sites that effectively describe your insurance choices.
- A good place to start is at the Webby Award-winning health insurance site eHealthInsurance.com. The site’s help center has an extensive list of frequently asked questions accompanied by helpful, authoritative answers. It covers the basics of individual and family insurance, small business health insurance, short-term health insurance, student health insurance, life insurance, dental insurance and health savings accounts.
- If you're unemployed or uninsured, you have a variety of options for obtaining health care coverage. Here are a few concepts and suggestions to get you started.
- The most basic option for the unemployed is to explore different types of individual or family health insurance. Learn what different plans are available, how they work and what they'll cost. Most introductory questions are answered in the eHealthInsurance.com site mentioned above.
- Medicaid is a federal program that provides medical care and health services to certain low-income individuals. If you're over the age of 65, pregnant or disabled, you may be eligible for Medicaid.
- Insurance laws and policies, including COBRA and Medicaid coverage, differ between states. After familiarizing yourself with the basics of insurance, consult a state-specific insurance guide. These can be found at Healthinsuranceinfo.net. For additional questions or clarification on any issues, speak with a state insurance agent. Use this directory to find the official home of your state's department of insurance. Once there, use the resources on the site, or use the contact information provided to get in touch with someone who can be of more help.
- If you're not covered by COBRA, Medicaid or any other special program, and you're strapped financially, you might want to consider purchasing a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP). An HDHP, sometimes referred to as "catastrophic" health insurance, will protect the insured against costs associated with extreme illness or injury, but won't cover minor doctor visits or expenses, due to the high deductible. Read this article from Insurance.com to learn about the pros and cons of "catastrophic" health insurance.
- Another cost-effective option to consider is opening a Health Savings Account (HSA). HSAs function similarly to IRAs in that the money directed into them is nontaxable and is earmarked for a specific purpose—in this case, paying for health insurance. Of course there is flexibility, and should you need the cash, it can be withdrawn from the account (under the condition that it then becomes taxable).
- For information on how to obtain free or discounted prescription drugs, see the “Learning About Medicines” section of this guide.
For general information ...
is one of the Web's premier portals for health insurance information. Users not familiar with how insurance works, or what their options are, should start by visiting the "Learning Center." Find definitions to acronyms like HMO, PPO, HSA and HDHP, a beginner’s guide to insurance, and a useful FAQ section. The "Insurance Locater" can help you find insurance in your area.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
has a great consumer guide to health insurance. Not only does it compare what the different plans offer, it gives you lists of questions to ask so that you can make the definitive decision yourself.
has "Consumer Guides to Getting and Keeping Health Insurance," written by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, for every state and the District of Columbia. These 30+ page guides summarize your protection options under group plans, when buying individual health insurance, as a small employer or self-employed person or as someone needing financial assistance.
is a site operated by the National Health Law Program (NHeLP), a nonprofit health care consumer information and advocacy group. Find articles on helping consumers negotiate the health care system, including a host of articles on what insurance is, getting it, using it and keeping it.
U.S. Department of Labor
has loads of insurance information, covering topics like COBRA and Medicaid, as well as laws like the Mental Health Parity Act, the Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act, and the Newborns' and Mothers' Health Protection Act. Also find a list of links to USDL-verified health care Web sites.
For a low-income clinic near you …
Health Resources and Services Administration
has a directory to help visitors locate free medical clinics in their area. Choose the state you're looking for and pick a county. The BPHC will produce a list of clinics with descriptions of the services they offer, along with contact information. These clinics will provide medical care regardless of whether you have money or health insurance.
For a hospital …
is a site operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that allows you to compare the quality of care at local hospitals.
For insurance statistics …
U.S. Census Bureau
has information from their Current Population Survey (CPS) and Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) to provide an overview on the insured and uninsured.
It's important to have a good relationship with your doctor, and it's doubly important to select the right one. Word of mouth is a great way to find a doctor you can trust, but if you're new to an area or would like to do additional research, there are Web sites that can help you find a doctor or dentist.
- Check with your insurance provider to learn which doctors in your area accept your plan. Most insurance companies’ Web sites have searchable databases of doctors in their networks.
To find a doctor in your area …
American Medical Association
allows users to search for information on area doctors by inputting their name and location, or their specialty and location. The database contains a list of more than 800,000 doctors. Additional information on education history, accepted insurance providers and contact information is provided for AMA member physicians.
physician directory is searchable by location, name and specialty. It contains a specialist glossary to assist those not familiar with technical terminology. The information provided is generally quite extensive, but varies from doctor to doctor.
is a comprehensive directory that narrows down your search by specialty and location. Other services include a hospital finder, a health plan finder and a medical school finder.
physician directory contains names, addresses, phone numbers, specialties and other important information for Medicare-participating physicians who have agreed to accept assignment on all Medicare claims and covered services. Assignment only works with the Original Medicare Plan. It does not apply if you are in a Medicare managed care plan or Private Fee-For-Service plan. It is important to note that this directory does not include physicians who do not participate with Medicare, as nonparticipating physicians may take assignment on a case-by-case basis, or may never take assignment.
For a dentist near you …
has a four-step process for finding a dentist: state your location and dental preferences, select an office, confirm your profile and review the details of the dentist and office. The expanded information on the dentists and their practices—which include hours, credentials, treatments offered and conveniences—are a nice touch.
American Dental Association
is the largest dental association in the United States, with more than 150,000 members. This feature allows users to search specifically for ADA-member dentists in their area. It provides a glossary to help those unfamiliar with dental terminology determine what specialist suits their needs.
Know Your Teeth,
a Web site of the Academy of General Dentistry, allows users to search for AGD-member dentists in their area. Keep in mind that dentists listed only practice general dentistry.
has an easy-to-use database of more than 100,000 dentists, making it simple to locate a dentist near you.
Talking to your doctor about your health can be enhanced with a little preparation. This includes attempting to diagnose a condition as well as reviewing your treatment options. By educating yourself on your condition and knowing what important questions to ask, you can position yourself to play a part in the management of your medical issues.
- If you or a loved one has a disease or injury, use the Web to research your treatment options. Mayo Clinic's "Diseases and Conditions" section is a good place to start for many disorders.
- No one is ever prepared for a bad diagnosis. A woman who has received three has written a book, "AfterSchock," full of advice on how patients, health professionals and family members can best deal with bad medical news.
- Researching health information on the Internet can help you better understand your doctor's advice and learn how to take better care of yourself. But information is not a substitute for a doctor's advice, based on an in-person examination and evaluation. A few hours of Internet research will never be a substitute for visiting a doctor when you have a serious illness or injury.
For a general overview on talking with your doctor …
For seniors …
has a quality introduction to speaking with a doctor. It addresses the issue from a decidedly senior perspective, raising the important questions for the elderly to ask their doctors and providing tips on things to avoid.
National Institute on Aging
has a 44-page guide on talking with a doctor, geared toward seniors. It's a PDF file, which means you'll have to download it when prompted.
For additional resources …
has a directory of links to sites with information on speaking with a medical professional. The thorough "Related Issues" section has advice for those speaking with medical professionals about specific issues such as eye problems, cancer, kidney disease, heart failure and more.
All medication, whether prescribed by your doctor or received over the counter, is accompanied by directions for use. Although these instructions may be helpful in telling you how to take the drugs, chances are you haven't been fully briefed on what the drugs are or how they work. The following Web sites will help you answer some important questions about your medication.
- Low-income families can be eligible for subsidized medication. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA) pairs low-income patients lacking prescription drug coverage with private and public programs to bring them free or cheap medication.
For general medication information …
provides general medication information including precautions before and during usage, as well as tips on storage, proper use and side effects.
has a searchable database with information based on American Society of Health-System Pharmacists’ Medication Teaching Manual: The Guide to Patient Drug Information, a publication developed for use in patient-education programs conducted by health care professionals. The database features more than 900 name-brand and generic medicines.
For information on specific drugs …
has an extensive, easy-to-navigate drug listing providing information on precautions, administering medication, side effects, storage, emergency situations, brand names and more.
has a database of more than 2,500 drugs. Find information on uses, proper usage, side effects, precautions, drug interactions, overdose advice and links to related articles.
has a list of approved drugs with links to fact sheets containing dosage information, warnings and safety alerts, and more.
For seniors …
National Institute on Aging
has a PDF brochure with tips on how seniors can keep track of the pills they need to take, hints to help you get the most out of your medication and a Q&A section. Also find other NIA publications addressing seniors and medication
For recalls and warnings …
posts drug warnings and other alerts on its site. Look for recall information and other important consumer notices.
is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting consumers’ rights. In the health care section, find listings of incidents of questionable practices among hospitals, doctors and manufacturers.
allows users to access updated lists of all recalled drugs, vaccines, medical devices and other biologics.
For clinical trials …
is a definitive source of information about ongoing and upcoming patient-based drug tests.
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