Online health advice you can trust 2/11
(This article is adapted from the January 2011 ShopSmart magazine.)
If you’re relying on Google searches to help find health information, like millions of other Internet users, you may be getting some unreliable advice, not to mention Google "fatigue" from seeing hundreds of listings and paid links.
According to Consumer Reports health experts, it’s not a good idea to use a search engine to look up health advice. It’s smarter to go straight to websites that are trustworthy. But how do you know the ones you should visit?
Sites that are trustworthy
Our health and online experts have compiled a list of free sites that you can trust for general health, baby and kids health, and nutrition information.
Of course, we recommend Consumer Reports BestBuyDrugs.org, which is free, and ConsumerReportsHealth.org, which has a lot of free content, but costs $19 a year to get all the information on conditions and effective treatments.
Described below are a dozen other free sites that you can bookmark for future reference.
For general health questions:
The Mayo Clinic
MayoClinic.com—This site is great for looking up symptoms and what you can do, plus disease and condition guides. Click on the section called “symptoms” to get started. Easy to use and understand.
U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health
MedlinePlus.gov—This site presents concise information on a broad range of diseases and wellness topics, and makes it easy to look up medications with entries for side effects, possible drug interactions and more. If you click on the Clinical Trials tab on the home page, you can find drug and treatment studies from around the world.
Medstory.com—This beta search engine provides focused, graphically organized health search results. Click on Web, Audio/Video, Clinical Trials, Research Articles, or News Media to focus your search.
ShareCare.com—This site is best for asking questions. You type in your question and select the choices that most closely match. Then you’ll be presented with answers from various sources. Check the credentials of the source and look first at those from respected health-care institutions.
UpToDate.com/patients—This site has a "faculty" of more than 4,000 physicians from leading medical institutions and also says it keeps on top of more than 430 journals, plus integrating the latest evidence-based research. After you find the information, then you can ask your doctor about it. No ads or pharmaceutical sponsors are allowed on the site.
For child health and nutrition
Babycenter.com—This site is best for baby-care tips and is written by an advisory board of medical experts. You can get weekly newsletters and ways to connect with other parents.
Genetics Home Reference
Ghr.nlm.nih.gov—This site from the U.S. National Library of Medicine provides information on more than 550 genetic conditions with details on screening and counseling for specific ailments.
National Institute of Child Health & Human Development
Nichd.nih.gov—This government site is best for tracking child development issues with in-depth explanations.
Kidshealth.org—This site from the nonprofit Nemours Foundation uses plain language to cover a wide range of kids’ health topics. The content is reviewed by medical experts and has age-specific explanations. Click on the Parents Site tab for adult-level information. Also tabs for teens and younger kids.
Nutrient Data Laboratory
Nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search—This site from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Service is best for finding out how much calcium, potassium, and other nutrients are in specific foods. Click on the Nutrient List.
Tuftsmedicalcenter.org—Best for healthful recipes with complete nutritional information from the well-regarded Boston hospital. You can view recipes by course, food group or ingredient.
Seafood Network Information Center, University of California, Davis
Seafood.ucdavis.edu/consumer.html—Best for seafood safety information, this site has information on safe seafood storage and many other topics for consumers.
How to tell whether a site is trustworthy
Before you put your trust in a health website, our experts recommend that you ask three questions:
1) Who created the site? If a site is run by a company with a vested interest in steering you to particular products or retailers don’t rely on that site alone, or find a different one.
2) Where does the information come from? Reputable sites should include sources and credentials with links to supporting research. You can also look for a symbol that says a site complies with the HON code standard often at the bottom of the homepage or under "about us." Or you can check at www.hon.ch.