Answers to health questions

If you are like most people, when you have a health question, one of the first places you look is on the Web, and your go-to search site is Google or Yahoo. According to recent Pew Internet & American Life Project reports, 80 percent of American adults look for health information (September 2010) and 31 percent of teens look for health, dieting or exercise information on the Web (September 2009).

I do it, too. When I have a burning health question on my mind and first use a search engine like Google, I often become confused and frustrated by the results. I feel as if I am looking for just that one piece of information, and it just is not coming up — a “needle in the haystack” situation. Many of the sites that I find focus on selling the latest and greatest cures or are too busy with advertising and pop-ups.

Then I remember to put on my librarian hat. I ask myself, “What would be one of the best websites for finding easy-to-read health information that I can trust?”

The answer: MedlinePlus. I go to this site first. It is a one-stop portal for health information. The information is reliable, up-to-date, easy-to-read, written by knowledgeable people and free of advertising. MedlinePlus includes a medical dictionary and encyclopedia, pictures, videos, and links to a lot of good health and drug information. There is also a Spanish version of MedlinePlus. One can find information in many different languages including Russian, Chinese, Farsi and others.

The Medical Library Association has created a list of the “top ten” most useful websites for finding health information (page in Spanish). Not surprisingly, MedlinePlus is one of them. The sites below are definitely worth bookmarking (listed in alphabetically order not by any rank):

If you use some of the sites listed and you are still convinced that Google or Yahoo is the starting point for finding health information, do try the advanced search options. They will help you create searches that are more on-target and uncover useful answers to your questions faster.

Also, when you find a web site ask these four questions to see if you can trust the health information given:

Who is the sponsor of the website?

Be sure the writers’ educational backgrounds are listed. Medical associations, hospitals, medical centers and medical schools usually share good information. Makers of medical products and drugs may have good information but do not usually include information about competing products.

Is the website current?

When was it updated the last time? When was the article written?

Is the information based on facts or opinion?

Whose opinions are being expressed? Are the writers qualified professionals?

Is the website written for doctors/nurses or the public?

For my own health questions, MedlinePlus is a great start. If I want to dig deeper, I conduct searches at some of the other sites listed above and on MEDLINE (accessible via PubMed).

If you do not have the time or interest to find health information, you can call a Christiana Care community health librarian and she will put together a packet of information that can be mailed or e-mailed to you. It is easy to make a request by calling 302-623-4580, 302-733-1122 or 302-428-2201. You can also visit one of the community health libraries.