It is a well established fact that empowered patients go to the web when they need to find information about health issues. Pew research indicates that 80% of Internet users search online for their health information and that translates into 59% of the total population of the United States looking online for health information for themselves or someone that they care for. These individuals are seeking information on symptoms, treatments, medications and general health such as food and safety issues. Many of these individual belong to Facebook and Twitter. This raises the questions:
Where do these individuals look for health information?
Should they rely on heir social networks?
What are some of the reliable, focused health sites?
There has been major discussions about Facebook recently, which now has over 800 million registered users and has an IPO pending. Facebook claims that there are approximately 175 million individuals who log in daily but these estimates vary widely. For the most part, Facebook visitors are connecting with friends on a variety of personal/social issues and are not specifically seeking health information. On the other hand there have been some remarkable stories of Facebook users finding organ donors and other health assistance and information through this social network. So if you are on Facebook and have a health need or a question, it never hurts to put it out there to your friends.
What about Twitter? Twitter claims to have 175 million accounts. Looking closely we find that of those, 56 million Twitter accounts follow zero persons and 90 million have zero followers. No information exchange there The rest include small numbers of individuals who follow significant numbers of accounts and a very small percentage who seek health information. Among the health seekers there are tweets and links to a very wide range of resources and issues. Therefore if you like to tweet and are an information junky twitter may be helpful.
There are social networks specifically devoted to patients who are looking for information and communities with whom to share their concerns and thoughts. They are worth checking out and include:
Web MD www.webmd.com
The most popular of the general health information consumer web sites is Web MD. Web MD has over 80 million unique visitors each month. The site offer just about everything a health care consumer needs, including a symptom checker, a comprehensive database of drugs and medications, a directory, women’s health information, and general health issues related to diet, fitness, recipes, life style, exercise and safety. The site includes pod casts, videos, tool kits, training materials, an e-newsletter, even a section on the health of your pets. There is a Web MD app that can be downloaded for all popular smart phones. Web MD does accept advertising so some of the content on the site could be influenced.
Mayo Clinic www.mayoclinic.com
The Mayo Clinic web site offers user friendly content and includes mainstream questions and concerns for consumers, health care professionals and educators. All of the information is vetted by health care professionals. Information on diseases and conditions, a symptom checker,. drugs and supplements, tests and procedures, healthy living as well as information on how to provide first aid on conditions from tooth aches to animal bites is available. There is no advertising on the Mayo Clinic site.
Drugs.com is a popular, up-to-date source of free drug information online. it is based on peer-reviewed accurate and independent data on more than 24,000 prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines and natural products.
Health Grades www.healthgrades.com
At this site, patients can find doctors, dentists, and hospitals by specialty and location. The individuals and institutions are profiled and rated by patients. The information is objective and reliable.
Department of Health and Human Services, www.healthfinder.gov
This gateway site links to a broad range of consumer health information resources and enables the consumer to search for medical, pharmaceutical and health information from over 1,500 websites, online publications, clearinghouses and databases on every conceivable health topic. It is one of the hidden gems for health information on the web and for the health information seeker is well worth checking out.
There are many other excellent web sites that address specific diseases and issues. A more comprehensive list can be found in my book, e-Patients Live Longer, The Complete Guide to Managing Health Care Using Technology