Sunday, October 20, 2013

Finding Reliable Health Information on the Internet

(The following health websites have been recommended by Central Maine Medical Center.  Thanks to Peter Gartner for alerting us to this valuable resource.) is the official website for The National Cancer Institute (NCI), a component of the National Institutes of Health, one of eight agencies that compose the Public Health Service in the Department of Health and Human Services. The NCI, established under the National Cancer Act of 1937, is the Federal Government's principal agency for cancer research and training. NCI coordinates the National Cancer Program, which conducts and supports research, training, health information dissemination, and other programs with respect to the cause, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of cancer, rehabilitation from cancer, and the continuing care of cancer patients and the families of cancer patients.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, is dedicated to promoting "health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability." Of special interest to the consumer are the resources about diseases, conditions, and other special topics arranged under "Health Topics A-Z," and "Travelers' Health," with health recommendations for travelers worldwide. There are also sections on health topics in the news and health hoaxes. Information is also available in Spanish. is operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), a national medical organization representing more than 93,700 family physicians, family practice residents and medical students. All of the information on this site has been written and reviewed by physicians and patient education professionals at the AAFP.

Healthfinder is a gateway consumer health information website whose goal is "to improve consumer access to selected health information from government agencies, their many partner organizations, and other reliable sources that serve the public interest." Menu lists on its home page provide links to online journals, medical dictionaries, minority health, and prevention and self-care. The developer and sponsor of this site is the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Department of Health and Human Services, with other agencies that also can be linked to via the site. Access to resources on the site is also available in Spanish.

Health Fraud Scams - Food and Drug Administration refer to products that claim to prevent, treat, or cure diseases or other health conditions, but are not proven safe and effective for those uses. Health fraud scams waste money and can lead to delays in getting proper diagnosis and treatment. They can also cause serious or even fatal injuries. Don't get fooled by bogus claims and promises of miracle cures. Learn about the common types of health fraud, and the gimmicks and tricks used to promote them.

Kidshealth provides doctor-approved health information about children from before birth through adolescence. Created by The Nemours Foundation's Center for Children's Health Media, KidsHealth provides families with accurate, up-to-date, and jargon-free health information they can use.

MARVEL! Databases provide every resident of Maine with access to a collection of full text articles and abstracts from magazines, newspapers, journals and reference books that are credible, reputable resources. Funding comes from the Maine State Legislature and the joint efforts of Maine State Library, University of Maine, Colby, Bates, Bowdoin Colleges, the Public Utilities Commission, and MTEAF (Maine Telecommunications Educational Access Fund), commonly known as state E-rate. This collaboration makes statewide licensing of MARVEL! resources extremely cost effective and provides these resources for every school, library and resident of Maine. Click on the "Health" subject link in the left hand menu to see the health resources.

Mayo Clinic is an extension of the Mayo Clinic's commitment to provide health education to patients and the general public. Editors of the site include more than 2,000 physicians, scientists, writers, and educators at the Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit institution with more than 100 years of history in patient care, medical research, and education. The website has added interactive tools to assist consumers in managing their health. This site supersedes the previous site, Mayo Clinic Health Oasis.

MedlinePlus is the National Library of Medicine's website for consumer health information. The site offers authoritative, up-to-date health information, without advertisements. A Spanish-language version, Medline Plus en espagnol, is also available. A site for cell phones and other mobile devices is at Additional resources include physician and hospital directories, several online medical dictionaries, interactive health tutorials, and information about prescription and over-the-counter medicines, plus herbs and supplements. A full description of all resources available on MedlinPlus is available.

NetWellness, a non-profit consumer health website, has been in operation for over ten years. It provides over 55,000 pages of high quality information created and evaluated by medical and health professional faculty at the University of Cincinnati, Case Western Reserve University and the Ohio State University. Its "Ask An Expert" feature is a question and answer service provided by numerous health care professionals of the three universities, who volunteer their time as a community service.

NIH SeniorHealth makes aging-related health information easily accessible for family members and friends seeking reliable, easy to understand online health information. A unique feature is that the website has a spoken language feature and also allows increases in contrast as well as size of type for easier viewing. Well-illustrated and readable, it includes some short videos and links out to MedlinePlus for additional information.

WebMD provides credible information, supportive communities, and in-depth reference material about health subjects that matter to you as well as original and timely health information. Content staff includes individuals who hold advanced degrees in journalism, medical illustration, health communications, clinical informatics, nursing, and medicine. WebMD verifies the qualifications of all medical professionals on the site; including health professionals, experts, editorial professionals and contributors with a specialty license.

Should you "Google It?"

(The following information has been provided by the Medical Library Association.)

As many people have discovered, clicking on a favorite search engine and entering a disease or medical condition can often result in hundreds, even thousands, of "hits." This can be discouraging. Here are a few ideas for filtering the available web pages to a manageable number:

If you are using a search engine such as Google or Yahoo, take advantage of the health subsets of these services for your search. Learn how to use the advanced searching features of the sites so that you can combine terms to make your retrieval more precise. For example, entering the term "cancer" and "chemotherapy" linked together is more powerful and precise than trying to read through all the hits found by simply entering the general term "cancer."

When you have found sites that look relevant, use the content evaluation guidelines below to help you decide whether the information is as credible, timely, and useful as it looks.

Content Evaluation Guidelines

1. Sponsorship

Can you easily identify the site sponsor? Sponsorship is important because it helps establish the site as respected and dependable. Does the site list advisory board members or consultants? This may give you further insights on the credibility of information published on the site.

The web address itself can provide additional information about the nature of the site and the sponsor's intent:

o A government agency has .gov in the address.

o An educational institution is indicated by .edu in the address.

o A professional organization such as a scientific or research society will be identified as .org. For example, the American Cancer Society's website is

o Commercial sites identified by .com will most often identify the sponsor as a company, for example Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical firm.

What should you know about .com health sites? Commercial sites may represent a specific company or be sponsored by a company using the web for commercial reasons-to sell products. At the same time, many commercial websites have valuable and credible information. Many hospitals have .com in their address. The site should fully disclose the sponsor of the site, including the identities of commercial and noncommercial organizations that have contributed funding, services, or material to the site.

2. Currency

The site should be updated frequently. Health information changes constantly as new information is learned about diseases and treatments through research and patient care. Websites should reflect the most up-to-date information.

The website should be consistently available, with the date of the latest revision clearly posted. This usually appears at the bottom of the page.

3. Factual information

Information should be presented in a clear manner. It should be factual (not opinion) and capable of being verified from a primary information source such as the professional literature, abstracts, or links to other web pages.

Information represented as an opinion should be clearly stated and the source should be identified as a qualified professional or organization.

4. Audience

The website should clearly state whether the information is intended for the consumer or the health professional.

Many health information websites have two different areas - one for consumers, one for professionals. The design of the site should make selection of one area over the other clear to the user.

Additional Help

The Health on the Internet Foundation Code of Conduct for medical and health websites specifies eight principles intended to hold website developers to basic ethical standards and to make sure consumers always know the source and purpose of the data they are reading. Participation is voluntary throughout the world, but sites

displaying the foundation's symbol (pictured at left) are generally considered credible sources of information.

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