The question is not whether there is good medical information on the Internet, but how to winnow it from the vast acres of chaff blowing across the digital prairies.
One place for librarians to start is an online report called Comparison of Health Information Megasites (henry.ugl.lib.umich.edu/megasite/toc.html). based on a project led by Pat Anderson of the University of Michigan Dental Library, the site evaluates 25 megasites and mentions more than 50. For a sneaky librarian trick, Mary Walsh, Internet and reference librarian at the University of Colorado/Denver, uses Instructions to Authors in the Health Sciences (www.mco.edu/lib/instr/libinsta.html) "as a back door for finding the Web presence of specific journals." Finally, Medical Matrix offers 14 different, freely searchable versions of Medline (www.medmatrix.org/SPages/medline.asp).
Learn on your feet
To build your reference skills, consider a distance-learning course such as the one taught periodically by Diane Kovacs and Isabel Danforth (www. kovacs.com/akronu/medonline.html). Diane is also coauthoring a book on medical resources on the Internet, due out from Library Solutions Press (www.library-solutions.com) later this year.
Keep it simple
Patrons need a bit more help with locating information than your average librarian. A popular approach to taming the infomonster is to build a Web resource with links to high-quality, locally relevant medical information. Lynn Oliver of the Morris County (N.J.) Library has a typical launchpad at www.gti.net/mocolib1/health.html; this small but useful Web site presents resources based on the types of questions patrons actually ask - basic disease information, travel health, how to find out if a doctor is certified (www.ama-assn.org/aps/amahg.htm), locating a hospital (www.hospitalselect.com) and even Quackwatch (www.quackwatch.com), "a nonprofit corporation whose purpose is to combat health-related frauds, myths, fads, and fallacies." A nice local touch: Oliver's site weaves in links to the New Jersey Union List of Serials plus references to useful books.
It only hurts when I search
With or without a local Web page, helping patrons locate information about diseases has never been easier or more satisfying, and success stories abound.
"One of our most memorable success stories concerned a mother whose son had just been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome," related Sharon Campbell of the Rochester Hills (Mich.) Public Library. "We were only able to find one line in a medical dictionary, but a great amount of excellent information on the Internet, which included ways to contact support groups."
For Web sites providing information about specific diseases, I have to thank Barbara Grimes, librarian at Masonic Medical Research Laboratory in Utica, New York, for pointing me to Diseases, Disorders, and Related Topics, maintained by Tor Ahlenius, a systems person at the library of Sweden's Karolinska Institutet (www.mic.ki.se/Diseases/index.html). This may be the best single medical resource on the Net. …