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Getting good medical information online

A recent article in the online version of the Southtown Star (Chicago, IL) reads, “Doctors see more cases of ‘Google’-itis.” It goes on to illustrate how every day people are searching the Web trying to diagnose every odd symptom they have. One physician left his daughter’s basketball game at halftime when a panicked parent was convinced her infant had measles, only to find it was just a pimple.

Yet this reporter falls short in her responsibility to her readers by not providing links to reputable medical sites. All she writes is:

Some of the country’s most reputable medical institutions and organizations, including the Mayo Clinic and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, operate sites that the average person can look to for help diagnosing an ailment.

It is frustrating for librarians and other medical information professionals to see the ball being dropped like this. All it would have taken was a few extra moments to insert a link to Medline Plus, the CDC or Mayo Clinic and readers would be provided with better options than the imprecise catch-all Google. And Mayo Clinic even has an online symptom checker.

In addition, when looking at sites that offer medical information and advice, end users are encouraged to make sure that the site you are viewing is an established, trustworthy site. If you are browsing a website that is not associated with a major provider such as Mayo Clinic, make sure it has the Health On the Net (HON) Code certification.

The Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library (EHSL) provides links to a number of trustworthy online resources. On the Community page of our website visitors will find links to:

and others. And while EHSL staff cannot give medical advice, we can direct you to additional resources — online, in print, etc. — that related directly to your question. You can contact us via instant messaging (IM), email, phone or in-person. We will do our best to point you to valid, trustworthy medical resources.

So don’t trust your health to an imprecise tool such as an online search engine, or the advice of a friend or neighbor. For general information on health topics, consult the resources suggested above. For information on specific health issues for yourself or your family, always check with your doctor.