DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: What are the best websites for finding reliable health information on the Internet?
DEAR UNTRUSTING: To help you sort through the online clutter and locate reliable, trustworthy medical information, here are a few tips to follow, along with some top-rated sites.
How to verify
As a general rule, health and medical information websites sponsored by the U.S. government, nonprofit health or medical organizations, and university medical centers are the most reliable. Sites supported by for-profit companies, such as drug or insurance companies who may be trying to sell you their products, are usually not your best option.
To find out who's sponsoring a site and where the information came from, click on the “About Us” tab on the site's home page. Also look for the red and blue “HONcode” seal at the bottom of each page, which means the site has credible information and is certified by the Health On the Net Foundation. However, government-sponsored health sites don't have the seal. Also be aware that good health and medical information changes all the time so check the date that information was published to make sure it's current. And, if you're doing research online before seeing a doctor, print your findings out on paper, including the site you got your information from, so you can review it together.
Top health sites
Here are two of the best all-purpose sites that are easy to use.
MedlinePlus.gov: Sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus provides information on more than 900 diseases and conditions in its “Health Topics” section, and links to other trusted resources.
It also provides a directory of hospitals, clinics and health care providers, a medical encyclopedia and medical dictionary, tutorials on common conditions, tests and treatments, extensive information on prescription drugs, supplements and herbs, and links to thousands of clinical trials. It even offers a senior specific health site (nihseniorhealth.gov).
MayoClinic.com: Owned by the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, this site is produced by more than 3,300 physicians, scientists and researchers from Mayo Clinic, and provides in-depth, easy-to-understand information on hundreds of diseases and conditions, drugs and supplements, tests and procedures. It also offers a nifty “Symptom Checker” tool and “First-Aid Guide,” along with medical blogs, expert answers, videos and links to additional resources.
There are also dozens of other sites dedicated to specific diseases and conditions. Here are some top-rated sites:
Cancer: American Cancer Society (cancer.org), National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov), Association of Cancer Online Resources (acor.org) and Cancer Care (cancercare.org).
Heart disease: American Heart Association (americanheart.org), National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (www.nhlbi.nih.gov) and Congenital Heart Information Network (tchin.org).
Diabetes: American Diabetes Association (diabetes.org), National Diabetes Education Program (ndep.nih.gov), Joslin Diabetes Center (www.joslin.harvard.edu), and Diabetes Monitor (diabetesmonitor.com).
Alzheimer's disease: Alzheimer's Association (alz.org), Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation (alzinfo.org), and Alzheimers.gov.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC's “Today” show, KFOR-TV and is author of “The Savvy Senior” book.