Health: Finding a Digital Diagnosis
What would Dr. Spock have done with a DSL connection and a little knowledge of HTML? Probably made a website like KidsHealth, an online parenting encyclopedia with detailed advice on everything from what to eat during pregnancy to how to trim a baby's fingernails. Plus there are two bonus sections: one targeted at kids and another at teens. The teen site features dozens of articles on sexual health, drugs, and alcohol that could keep a young adult mesmerized for hours. Physicians and health experts review all the content before it's posted, and re-review it every one to three years.
Drawing on the Physicians'Desk Reference, this site contains a full database of prescription information ranging from recommended dosage to side effects and what to do if you accidentally skip a pill. Those living with cancer or rare diseases can browse PDRhealth's listings of clinical trials, searchable by region and illness. And patients with cancer, lung, heart, and women's health ailments can get personalized advice about treatment options via the site's partner, NexCura. That service is meant to supplement, not substitute for, professional advice, explains Colleen Frary of NexCura.
WebMD.com, the biggest of the medical websites, is growing (usnews.com/health, which offers similar features, was not considered for selection in this article). Many of its most helpful features are listed under "Health Care Services": a physician directory, an insurance guide, and an overview of Medicare benefits. Also useful are its subscription services, including an online weight-loss clinic ($4.99/week) and a health-record storage system for families ($29.95/year).
"Looking for health information on the Internet is like looking for a diamond in a garbage dump," says Michael Springer of the American Academy of Family Physicians, quoting an old boss. At YourDiseaseRisk, more than a dozen Harvard-affiliated health professionals have done the dirty work for you. Their site sorts through research on disease risk to give users concise reports on how likely they are to develop five major diseases. The site's straightforward prose is helpful and encouraging. Unfortunately, without printing the page straight from your browser, there's no way to save the tips.
This story appears in the November 20, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.