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Finding Reliable Health Information Online

While going through an old blog of mine, I found this summary of a presentation I gave in late 2006 on finding reliable health information online. Surprisingly most of it is at least somewhat relevant today. Since I'm trying to relive the days when I used to research medical information for a living, this wasn't a bad way to jog my memory.

Finding Reliable Health Information Online

MedlinePlus: This site is put together by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) as a comprehensive consumer health resource. It is relatively easy to use and requires little or no knowledge of medical terminology. Use it like a search engine and simply type your term into the search box, or explore one of MedlinePlus’ specific resources, including drug information, dictionary, and medical encyclopedia.

Quackwatch: A great site for checking out “too good to be true” medical claims. This non-profit corporation is dedicated to combating “health-related frauds, myths, fads, fallacies, and misconduct.” The site is continually growing, but remains relatively easy to use, with a basic search function at the top right of the homepage, and information on the site about how to navigate effectively.

PubMed: Another NLM site, this one is designed for health care researchers and practitioners, and allows you to search for articles published in hundreds of the most popular medical journals. Most articles simply list citations, many with abstracts, but a small percentage of the articles are available free through NLM. This isn’t the first place to search for information, but for rare conditions, or after exhausting sources on other more user-friendly sites, PubMed can be an invaluable resource. However, making the most of its tremendous ability for specialization may require a consultation with the consumer health librarian.

Google: While Google is not focused on retrieving quality consumer health information, it is the most popular internet search engine, and continual improvements make it more and more useful for consumer health information searchers. Now when entering many common illnesses, Google allows you to limit your results to pages addressing certain aspects of the disease, such as “Symptoms” or “For patients.” Because Google is not as rigorously focused on quality, double check that sites are reputable.

Above all, if you have questions about the validity of information you find online, don’t hesitate to ask a librarian if the site looks reliable. Also, remember that while your librarian can recommend reputable information sources, we are not doctors and cannot recommend one treatment option over another or provide any other medical advice. For medical questions, please speak to your doctor.
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