Separating Health Facts from Fiction on the Web

Article excerpt

Suppose you just found out that you have diabetes or high blood pressure, or someone in the family has asthma or cancer, and you need to learn about it. Search engines provide thousands of hits for a word like asthma with no evaluation of the information. Where can you turn?

For people who want basic information from sources deemed reliable by the government medical establishment, www.healthfinder.gov is a good way to start. The site, created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, lets users search by subject and provides links to information from government health agencies, public health and professional groups, universities, support groups, medical journals and some news sites. The Healthfinder site also gives information about enrolling in clinical trials for cancer and AIDS.

Healthfinder covers an impressive array of topics, including common illnesses and some uncommon ones like leprosy, the Ebola virus and mercury poisoning. But the search engine can be stumped: It produced nothing in response to queries about pinworms, tapeworms, hookworms, common asthma medications, swimmer's ear or popular supplements like echinacea and ginkgo biloba. "Bee sting" and "St. John's wort" led nowhere, but "sting" and "wort" got results.

Another searchable site, Medscape (www.medscape.com), answered all the queries that Healthfinder did not. Medscape, which carries advertising, offers access to journals, news and other links relating to medical specialties and drugs. …