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Medical Information

The Internet opens the door to medical advice on a plethora of topics. While this 24-hour access to information is convenient, surfers must guard against false, tainted or misleading data. Web sites are not always edited with the same care as print publications. As a result, researchers must critically evaluate the authority of a site's authors and the information it provides.

How do you sort the good from the bad? At QuackWatch.com, Dr. Stephen Barrett plays the role of Internet skeptic. "Judging the quality of legitimate sites can only be done by experts, and it is difficult to give a specific list of criteria to evaluate content," Barrett says. "But we try to help Web surfers by listing a large number of sites that we as physicians have evaluated and consider reliable."

QuackWatch sections include "Questionable Products, Services, and Theories," "Questionable Advertisements" and "Nonrecommended Sources of Health Advice." The site also offers a list of recommended sites and tips on identifying untrustworthy sources..

The University of California Los Angeles provides a helpful tutorial on spotting tainted information or advice given to benefit a particular company or organization. Thinking Critically about Discipline-Based World Wide Web Resources advises information-seekers to consider the list of sources the site is based on - are they all Web sites or are some print-based? What is the date of the information? Medical information can change quickly. UCLA also suggests users be wary of information that is presented as scholarly work, but combined with a commercial product.

Health Finder is a government-sponsored site that also provides valuable tips. Check out the "Criteria for Assessing the Quality of Health Information on the Internet," "10 Things to Know about Evaluating Medical Resources on the Web" and "The Emergence of Interactive Health Communication."

The Internet Healthcare Coalition recently presented Quality Healthcare Information Online: Fixing the Broken Link. The 1999 conference touts itself as "a comprehensive review of Internet health resources and ways to utilize and improve the quality of these resources."

Medical Sites

Armed with this advice, explore some of the leading medical sites:

  • Web MD
    The site's content is written by medical journalists who have passed a competency test.

  • Mediconsult
    Has a strong focus on chronic illnesses like cancer. Visitors can refer to the "Site Services" section to discover which advertisers are involved with the site.

  • InteliHealth
    Features a drug resource center, a medical dictionary and Ask the Doc section. It does allow advertisers like The Vitamin Shoppe to buy banner space. A small flag running along the side of the banner categorizes it as an advertisement.

  • The Mayo Clinic
    Prides itself on updating the site as often as five times a week. It, too, has banner advertising. An advertising disclaimer is displayed directly below the banner.

Others to try:

   --- J.H.

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