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ONLINE SEARCHER: Information Discovery, Technology, Strategies

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Surfing Health on the Web: What’s Legit? What’s Bogus? What’s the Difference?
Volume 41, Number 3 - May/June 2017

RECOMMENDED Healthcare Websites

When I look for credible, accurate, evidence-based, reliable, and free healthcare websites, I favor government; nonprofit; or organization, academic, or international sites. Use common sense as you look for health information online. Don’t count on any one website—search several. Get a web search second opinion, print it, annotate it, and take it to your clinician to begin the questions and conversation.

General Health and Medical Websites

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Hu man Services, aims to prevent and control disease, injury, and disability. The CDC is one of the best government websites, chock-full of U.S. population health data. The CDC tracks chronic and infectious diseases: AIDS, bird flu, childhood diseases, and diseases such as Ebola. Everything that impacts U.S. health is covered: Birth defects, travel health, vaccines and immunizations, accidents, injuries, and workp lace safety are addressed. Available in both Spanish and English, content is updated daily.

The Cleveland Clinic Health Information Center

Produced by the Cleveland Clinic to benefit patients, the general public, and healthcare professionals, this site offers approximately 5,000 articles, videos, podcasts, and tools for managing your health. A health information search specialist will answer questions via live chat. Visit the online learning center to find specific disease, conditions, and treatment information. Links to free guides and newsletters are also included on the site.

The content on is for folks seeking solid health information written at a 6th–8th grade reading level. Children, teens, and seniors can easily find age-specific information. All information is written and reviewed by physicians and patient education experts at the American Academy of Family Physicians. You can search by condi tions, diseases, symptoms, or ages. Included are a symptom checker, dictionary, body mass index calculator, and immunization schedule.

Managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides reliable information culled from approximately 1,400 health-related organizations. Fea tures include tools for finding health services and support, National Health Observances toolkits, and information about healthcare reform. Use the “en Español” link to find a mirror site in Spanish.

Lab Tests Online

Lab Tests Online, an award-winning health information web resource, is designed to help patients and caregivers understand the many lab tests that are a vital part of medical care. Laboratory and medical experts in the field develop and review all content, including articles on lab tests, conditions/diseases, screening, clinical laboratory topics, and lab test news. The site is produced by AACC, a global scientific and medical professional organization dedicated to clinical laboratory science.

Mayo Clinic

Owned by the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, this site is created by more than 3,300 physicians, scientists, and researchers from the Mayo Clinic. It 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 and First-Aid Guide for quick answers to all types of health conditions, along with medical blogs, expert answers, videos, and links to additional resources.


The robust MedlinePlus provides an abundance of informa tion, dictionaries, and videos. It also links to many sites listed throughout this article. Make it one of your go-to sources. MedlinePlus pages offer carefully selected links to health information on 1,000 topics. The A.D.A.M. medical encyclopedia includes images, videos, and many brief articles. Drug and supplement information and patient education interactive tutorials are also provided. The Español button allows searching the site in Spanish, and the Multiple Languages section allows searching in more than 40 other languages. It’s available on most devices.

Merck Manual Consumer Version

The online edition of the Merck Manual is written in everyday language and contains photographs and audio and video material. Other helpful features include first aid information, common medical tests, a drug names table, and links to other reliable resources and information.


NetWellness is a nonprofit consumer health website de veloped by University of Cincinnati, Case Western Univer sity, and Ohio State University. Containing more than 55,000 pages of information, it’s written and evaluated by the partner schools’ professional faculties. There’s an Ask an Expert service that enables users to request advice from clinicians. The Reference Library section links visitors to additional sites, and a Research column highlights current research.

Additional Health-Related Sites

Healthy People

Healthy People delivers science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans. It’s a site filled with easy-to-understand data about the collective health status of U.S. citizens. The infographics are zippy and useful for health promotions.


MedScape is a global medical professional’s information and news website. It’s a commercial site, so you’ll see advertising, but it’s a great site for the hot news of study results, free CME for clinicians, and real medical/research controversies. It’s a sister site of


Although a commercial site, WebMD is a great, yet visually busy site. Doctors and health professionals contribute articles and resources, and it has the HONcode and other imprimaturs of truth and excellence. There is a large and well-documented About section (

Symptom Checkers—Channel your Inner Dr. House

Symptom checkers are the hot patient health websites right now. WebMD and the Mayo Clinic include these, as does the AARP ( While utterly cool, take caution when self-diagnosing. Before jumping to the worst-case scenario—or off the balcony—print out the information, head for the Emergency Room, or make an appointment with your healthcare provider.


Isabel is a well-regarded clinician’s diagnostic checklist tool that integrates with point-of-care clinical decision tools such as DynaMed Plus, VisualDx, and UpToDate. For patients, Isabel offers a friendly, free symptom checker. Watch the compelling Isabel story here (


Patient, funded by Egton Medical Information Systems Ltd, includes a symptom checker ( Patient is powered by Isabel with a slightly different, easily accessible interface.

Clinical Trials

Should you enroll in a clinical trial? Only you can decide if participating is your best option. Informed consent is cru cial; patients need to truly comprehend the implications of volunteering for a trial. Will it harm me? Will it cure me? Might it prevent additional treatment should the trial fail to improve my condition? The National Institutes of Health (NIH) created to provide a registry and results database for publicly and privately supported clinical studies of human participants conducted around the world. Its About page ( explains the history, policies, and laws regarding clinical trials.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) runs its own site for cancer clinical trials. ( If this is your area of concern, explore the site thoroughly—examine the side buttons—especially the option to call the NCI hotline and speak to a cancer information specialist for specific details about your cancer and treatment options.


Healthcare is constantly changing; sites go up and down, and who knows where health insurance or affordable healthcare is heading. One constant in navigating the web is that it’s always a challenge, with healthcare even more so. These sites will keep you anchored in reliability, substance, and, with any luck, evidence. While there may be a sucker born every minute, if you’re using these sites, it won’t be you!

Elaine C. Alligood is chief, library service for the Boston VA Knowledge Information Service, VA Boston Healthcare System.


Comments? Email the editor-in-chief:

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