Websites for Wellness: Health Information in the Digital Age

Which websites do you turn to for health information? There are thousands of healthcare sites offering advice, but a sizable portion are either trying to sell you something you don’t need or simply do not provide evidence-based recommendations. I’ve researched many websites throughout my career as a physician, and I’d like to share with you my favorite websites for health and wellness information.

General medical information

My favorite sites for everyone

  • www.familydoctor.org – My first stop for general health information would be the patient website of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).
  • www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus – Also good are several websites run by various U.S. government agencies, especially the National Institute of Health’s MedlinePlus database.
  • www.cdc.gov – I also love the United States Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) site.
  • www.mayoclinic.com – Lastly, the famous Mayo Clinic website is extremely user-friendly.

All of these sites provide well-written, straightforward articles, videos and slideshows on thousands of topics, many with an emphasis on wellness and prevention.

For the medically-minded

  • www.uptodate.com/patients – Those who want more detailed and technical articles can find outstanding patient handouts from the UpToDate group. The website is probably the medical world’s most esteemed source for medical information and is, by far, my most valuable website for my practice. All of United Family Healthcare hospitals subscribe to this essential database. The Pro version is expensive, but their patient handouts are free and very detailed, even though it is less user-friendly than other websites.
  • www.medscape.com – You can also find free doctor-level articles at the physician website Medscape which is an umbrella group of the consumer-oriented WebMD.com.
  • www.cochrane.org/cochrane-reviews – If you want pure evidence-based data, you can peruse the world’s top collection of meta-analyses at the Cochrane Collaboration’s website.

For medical site rankings

When you’re looking for trustworthy websites, one tip to screen out the biased sites is to use the HonSearch engine at Health on the Net (www.hon.ch). This Swiss non-governmental organization independently rates thousands of websites for trustworthy, evidence-based content, and their search results only highlight approved sites.

For parents

General

  • www.familydoctor.org – My favorite, parent-friendly website is still the AAFP.
  • www.healthychildren.org – My second choice is the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) excellent, new, family-friendly website that focuses mostly on wellness and prevention at different ages. Their main website (www.aap.org) also has a large list of “Health Topics” that provide authoritative answers to many basic questions.

Vaccine Information

Those of you looking for vaccine information should avoid the thousands of distracting anti-vaccine websites and go straight to the trusted sources: governmental centers for prevention and disease control.

  • www.cdc.gov/vaccines – At the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s website you can find the latest official schedules for vaccines for all ages, as well as valuable information on vaccine safety. The AAP and AAFP websites above also have extensive information on vaccines.
  • www.cdc.gov/parents – Other top sites for parents include the CDC’s special “Parents” section.
  • www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/childrenshealth.html – MedlinePlus also has an informative section on vaccines and children’s health.

Medicines and supplements

For basic information on both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, the Mayo Clinic’s website is a great choice, as is MedlinePlus (both links above). If you’re searching for credible information on supplements and vitamins, I trust very few websites.

  • http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com – My first choice, by far, is the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. This website is the best source of evidence-based and unbiased data on every herb, supplement and vitamin you would ever use. There’s a small monthly fee, but they also have a huge list of free and incredibly useful articles on the front page (look for “Clinical Management Series”). You can also find much of their information for free at MedlinePlus, which licenses access to their data.
  • www.consumerlab.com – Once you know what OTC medicines and supplements you want, you can search for the best brands from the independent testing center ConsumerLab. Their website is full of useful tidbits on all supplements and vitamins. There is a fee to access their detailed reports, but it’s definitely worth it for anyone interested in supplements.
  • www.iherb.com – When you’re ready to buy supplements, my favorite online shopping site is definitely iHerb – a one-stop shop for supplements with a well-earned solid reputation. Many expats in China use this U.S.-based website to order not just supplements, but other natural products like Tom’s of Maine toothpaste. The prices are extremely reasonable, and items are delivered door-to-door within two weeks from the U.S. via EMS at very reasonable shipping fees and no customs hassle that we have heard of to date.

Alternative medicine

Many of us are interested in complementary treatments – such as acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine – but it’s very difficult to find credible sources online. One trustworthy start is the U.S. government’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at http://nccam.nih.gov. The Cochrane Database also has excellent meta-analyses of many alternative treatments. Of course, for any herbal information, the Natural Medicines database is another great resource.

Travel information

When planning your next big Asian vacation, it’s always important to quickly find out which vaccines you may need, or whether you may need pills, such as malaria prophylaxis. Before seeing your doctor, first go to the website most of us use: the CDC’s travel website at www.cdc.gov/travel. Choose your country from the pull-down menu, read their comprehensive reports discussing vaccines or medicines you may need, and your visit with the travel doctor will be much more productive and efficient.

Public health issues

Many of us have more China-specific questions about air quality, food safety and other environmental issues.

  • www.cfs.gov.hk – For food safety, my favorite website is the Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety. It has an enormous collection of useful bilingual reports and newsletters on food safety, most of which is just as relevant for mainland China as for Hong Kong.
  • www.myhealthbeijing.com – For information on air pollution as well as other expat-specific health and wellness information, especially in Beijing, I humbly recommend my own website. As China’s most popular expat health website over the past three years, I provide an easily searchable collection of hundreds of articles focusing on evidence-based tips for wellness and disease prevention. I’m very proud that my website is officially certified by the above-mentioned Health on the Net Foundation as a trustworthy source of health information.

 


This article was originally printed in the summer 2012 edition of Health Matters, my hospital’s quarterly magazine. You can access our archives here. To instantly read that summer edition, click here

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