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top 10 sites for consumer health

While the Internet is helpful in making consumer health information available universally to libraries, the World Wide Web can sometimes seem overwhelming simply in terms of numbers, let alone in the reliability of content. In an effort to help librarians winnow the thousands of general medical sites down to a useful number, the Healthy People Library Project offers its top ten links to consumer health sites. Each listing below includes a brief description of its services and features; the final paragraph in each description highlights the most valuable resources the site has to offer librarians and general users.

American Medical Association
The American Medical Association offers two tools to help users find local health care services. The doctor finder provides a basic professional sketch of virtually every licensed physician in the United States. The medical group practice finder helps consumers locate medical services in their community.

The health information section takes users to the Medem Medical Library where they'll find articles on a wide variety of issues. The Medem site links the user to learning centers, which contain articles based on popular topics; medical news; and the Smart Parents’ Health Source, a free children’s health e-newsletter. Material on life stages, diseases and conditions, therapies and health strategies, and health and society are easily accessible from Medem. “An Atlas of the Human Body,” which provides a number of anatomy and medical illustrations, also can be found on the site by clicking on the anatomy link under “diseases and conditions.”

For public libraries the most useful information is found in the learning centers. Local data, such as the doctor and medical group practice finders, are also helpful since these are sometimes difficult to locate.

FirstGov for Consumers: Health
This site links users to consumer health material from the federal government. Included is a range of topics from aging and elder care to how to choose quality health care, from exercise to product recalls, and from mental health to outdoor recreation. (Make sure you click at the bottom of the page to get to all the topics.) In addition it touches on a variety of insurance-related topics as well as material from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other federal agencies, including subjects ranging from cosmetics to controlling cholesterol.
Articles on recent health stories in the news as well as information on current medical research can be found “In the Spotlight.” Here you also will find the what's new section, where users can sign up to receive medical product and drug safety alerts provided by the FDA's MedWatch.
For the public library, it is extremely useful to have so much material available from the federal government and to know whom to contact with questions. Most of the pages are specifically written for the general public.

This site is prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. It provides information through several avenues, including a health library, which consists of specifically chosen articles, medical dictionaries, an encyclopedia, journals, and more; a “just for you” section, where selected health topics target patrons by age, gender, race, and ethnicity as well as by status such as caregiver or community leader; a health care section, with information about doctors, dentists, insurance, Medicare, and medical privacy; and a searchable directory of healthfinder organizations, which include government agencies, clearinghouses, nonprofits, associations, and universities. Links also are provided to recent news headlines and to interactive online checkups.

Users may browse each section by topic; most subjects will include in a sidebar links to related topics. Articles are provided as well as links to organizations where applicable. Documents can be ordered from the sponsoring organization. Some documents are also in Spanish, such as the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Facts. Assistance is provided to help the consumer locate information based on complaints, fraud, insurance, Medicare, quality of care, and so forth. There is also a handy link to 2003 national health observances. Health professionals, teachers, community groups, employers, and others can use these special times to sponsor health promotion events, stimulate awareness of health risks, or focus on disease prevention.

This site is particularly of use for public libraries in locating information about doctors, dentists, insurance and Medicare, and medical privacy. Public libraries also will benefit from the directory of healthfinder organizations when trying to locate groups that provide assistance with specific health issues. The help desk is also quite useful for patrons and staff.

Health Information for the Consumer
This site, a product of the University of Pittsburgh, serves as a portal to reliable consumer health information found on the Internet.
The main portion of the page is broken down into several categories: general health information resources; prevention and wellness, which provides information about safety and poison control, immunizations, traveling, and nutrition; diseases and conditions; and treatments and therapies, which runs the gamut from alternative therapies to tests and procedures and from drug information to organ donation. The site also offers advice for special populations, broken down by age, race, ethnicity, language, and gender, plus a “Find Quality Health Care” category – providing suggestions for locating physicians, hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice programs as well as information on medical fraud and patient rights.

The navigation bar at the left takes users to recent news as well as providing quick links for MEDLINEplus and drug information. Each category provides one or more highlights – sites that offer particular depth in a subject – but it can vary as to how helpful the sites are to the general user.

For the public library this site serves as a gateway to consumer health information on the Web. It is easy to navigate and thus a usable site for most patrons. The consumer tips provided will help consumers feel informed when going beyond the library to the medical professionals in their community.

This is a straightforward health information database. It is designed to link the patron to useful material on a variety of health-related issues. Information is arranged alphabetically by broad category, such as diabetes, consumer health, oncology, urban health, and nutrition. Once a topic is chosen the user is taken to a list of Web sites, with links, selected to provide information on that subject. A brief summary describing the site is given, along with the source. While clicking on a topic automatically sends you to general resources, if you look at the sidebar on the left, other subcategories may be listed. It is also possible to see who edited each topic and to contact them if you feel a link should be added or deleted.

Topics that are often more difficult to research – such as minority health issues, evidence-based health care, and medical and allied health careers – are included.

This site is most useful for the public librarian who is uncertain what is available from reputable sources on a particular topic. A sophisticated patron may also find this site of use, especially after visiting sites like FirstGov, Medem, and MEDLINEplus.

This Web site, which is owned by Aetna, features consumer health information from Harvard Medical School. Information is provided to the user via four main categories: diseases and conditions, healthy lifestyle, “Your Health” (broken down into categories for men, women, babies, children, and seniors), and “Look It Up,” a general reference/search section. Within each category health news is updated on a daily basis.
The site allows users to search medical literature and to ask experts medical questions. The interactive tools provide consumers with another way to assess information on health topics. Users can learn basic knowledge and how to take action for themselves; for example, an online video shows how to perform a breast self-exam. The tools provide a large number of health topics to learn about and interact with online.
For the public library the InteliHealth site provides useful information. The interactive tools section, in particular, gives the general public ways to assess their health and suggestions for taking a hands-on role in their own well-being.

This Web site is produced by the prestigious Mayo Clinic of Rochester, MN, and includes a great deal of valuable data. It is divided into basic subjects arranged around diseases and conditions, healthy living, drug search, “Ask a Specialist,” programs and tools, “My Health Interests,” and books and newsletters. Under the category of diseases and conditions users will find information on a wide variety of illnesses. There is also a very helpful series of health decision guides under the programs and tools category for those faced with major decisions in treating or preventing a condition. In the section on healthy living users can access “centers” on pregnancy, fitness, babies and other topics. Each center has a collection of information and tools to help you stay healthy. Highlights of timely topics, such as mental health month, and spotlights on current areas of interest, such as SARS, are included on the homepage.
For the public library it is useful to know that the Medical Library Association chose the Mayo Clinic as one of the ten best consumer health databases. The site provides useful information on making major decisions with reference to treatment or prevention.

Medem (Medical Library)
Medem was founded by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Academy of Pediatrics and other prestigious associations, and its consumer information comes from 45 leading medical societies. Medem provides full text articles and materials from sources such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the American Medical Association.

Information is organized under four main headings: life stages, diseases and conditions, therapies and health strategies, and health and society. Users also can find materials and articles through the learning centers, which group together articles into several topic areas to provide an easy-to-navigate learning environment. From one central point, users now can view information from the nation's leading medical societies on a specific disease or condition.

Medem was chosen as one of the top ten most useful Web sites for consumer health information by the Medical Library Association.
For the public library, Medem helps round out the information available through FirstGov, MEDLINEplus and the Mayo Clinic. For current news on hot topics such as anthrax and SARS, this site makes an excellent first choice. Medem also has useful data on medical supplies, learning centers, and health benefits and insurance.

MEDLINEplus Health Information
This site is maintained by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Its material is reviewed by physicians, medical librarians, and other health care providers, and the site is free of advertisements or endorsements. It includes more than 600 health topics; drug information; a medical encyclopedia, which can be searched using the first few letters followed by an asterisk; a medical dictionary, which also allows the use an asterisk when the spelling of the word is unknown; recent health news; and directories to locate doctors, dentists, and hospitals. There is also information on organizations and consumer health libraries. Health information abounds, with interactive tutorials, specialized data for older adults, and details on clinical trials available, as well as lists of studies for new drugs and treatments.

Information on health topics is arranged by such categories as news, overviews, diagnosis/symptoms, prevention/screening, research, age group, clinical trials and treatment. The title of each article is listed, along with its source and a link. Sources include the National Institutes of Health, American Heart Association and other prestigious government, educational and private organizations. Many articles are available in Spanish.

MEDLINEplus is one of the first choices to begin a search on various health topics in the public library. The variety of information sources and the separation of material according to news, ethnicity, age, gender and language is exceedingly useful.

NIH Health Information
Through this site, the National Institutes of Health provides material on numerous health topics, with much of its data coming from NIH publications. On the homepage there is a link to MEDLINEplus, the health database maintained by NIH's National Library of Medicine. Information on clinical studies is provided via clinicaltrials.gov. This Web site allows users to search clinical trials in which qualifying patients may participate. There is also a section on drug information which takes users to MEDLINEplus or the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
In the library references section there are links to PubMed, which provides access to more than 12 million MEDLINE citations as far back as the mid-1960s, and to the Combined Health Information Database, a bibliographic database produced by health-related agencies of the federal government. The special programs section provides information about AIDS, women’s health, minority health, etc. There are links to other agencies such as the CDC, FDA and The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

For the general user, full text articles from NIH can be located by subject, using broad, general concepts. For example under “common conditions/diseases” there is a link to information on cancers and under “body location/systems” there is material on the immune system (which will take the user to links for AIDS and allergies, among other things). When information on a specific subject such as asthma is requested the user is given links to articles and various institutes at NIH. Other interesting news, such as a summary of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ accomplishments in biodefense research, is also highlighted through the site’s health topics.

For the public library the full text articles from NIH, information on clinical trials, referral systems, and links to e-mail and MEDLINEplus are quite useful.

(This list was compiled by Barbara Roberts who is a science reference librarian with the D.C. Public Library in Washington, D.C.)


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