Sunday, July 13, 2008

How to search the net for health information

One of the commonest complaints patients have about doctors is that they do not provide them enough information about their medical problem. Everyone hates being kept in the dark, especially about such key issues as health and illness. This is why many patients turn to the internet, to find more information about their medical problem.

The good news is that there is a wealth of information available on the net , which means that no matter what you are looking for, you should be able to find it. The bonus is that most of it is free ! Also, since a lot of it is written for patients, it’s quite easy to understand; and some of it is reliable and updated.

However, many patients do get frustrated when looking for healthcare information. The kneejerk reflex when doing an internet search is to “google “ it ( – and while this can be a useful starting point, this can often cause a lot of problems. For one thing, there is too much information – and this information overload causes patients to get lost. They cannot separate the wheat from the chaff, and often end up reading unreliable or outdated medical information, as a result of which they get confused and frustrated . This also means that their end up upsetting their doctors, because they are misinformed.

Another risk is that some of the facts can be quite scary, and not all patients are willing to confront the truth or their own mortality; and because some of it is in technical jargon, it maybe incomprehensible. This is why many patients prefer not doing a search at all . They believe that a little knowledge is dangerous and they don’t want to become a “half-baked doctor”. Unfortunately, this means that they end up throwing out the baby with the bath-water.

Here’s a short and simple guide to help you find reliable information on the internet.

It’s important to get organised. Start first by identifying what the purpose of your search is.

Is it a simple search, where you just want to find out information about the side effects of the medications your doctor has put you on ? The internet is great for this – and it’s often just a question of typing in the generic name of the drug and scanning the results. However, your search could be far more complex. You may want to find out why your child has had fever for many days. Do you have a
diagnosis ? Or is this still uncertain ? Write down the keywords which your doctor has used – even if this is in medical jargon you cannot understand.

You usually have 2 options to start your search. One option is to go to a general search engine, such as google, and look for information. The great thing about google is that it is easy to use , but because it is not very smart, this often means that you are inundated with a lot of irrelevant information you may need to wade through. There are also specialized health search engines such as Healia (. which provide more focused results.

The easier option is to go to a reliable website, such as;; or and then search these sites. These are great for providing basic background information - and they are very reliable and uptodate.

Don’t worry if you can’t make sense of the initial results. This is bound to happen because this is unfamiliar territory for you. Trust your intelligence and remember that the secret is repetition –you will get better with time, and this will help you get to the gold very quickly. If you cannot make sense of some of the medical terms, there are excellent medical dictionaries and encyclopedias online. My favourite is . Don’t get frustrated - think of yourself as a detective who is trying to unearth elusive clues !

What if you do not know what your diagnosis is ? A great site to find out what the diagnostic possibilities are is FreeMD at You just need to answer the basic questions, and the talking head will help you figure out what your diagnosis is. Another good site is Wrong Diagnosis at

The biggest problem with a lot of these sites is that they are US-based. This means that most of the information applies to the US and you have to figure out what the Indian equivalents are. This does take some more time and energy, but hopefully Indian health websites such as TimesWellness
( will provide more India-specific information soon.

What are some of the common problems you may face ? The biggest problem is that you may get too many results. Just because you get 1 million hits on google does not mean that you need to scan all of them ! Most of these sites will have the same information, so you are very unlikely to gain much by visiting more than 3-4 sites. I usually open 4-5 windows and scan them quickly, to determine which seems the best. Fortunately, most of the best information is on the first page of your google search. You can also focus your search by providing more specific keywords.

What happens when you unearth conflicting information ? This can be quite a difficult situation, and it’s hard to know whom to trust. The trick is to check the publisher of the information. Is the website published by a reputed and trusted organization, such as the NHS, the US government or Mayo Clinic ? In this case, you know this information is trustworthy. Remember that anyone can publish a website, so don’t trust everything you read on the web. You need to verify and cross-check !

What can you do if you get stuck ? Simple – just ask for help ! If you have a teenager at home, ask them ! They are great with using the internet and can provide useful tips. Librarians can be a very useful source of guidance, and the HELP library provides a free Ask-the-Librarian service at to help you get started on your search.

Remember that your internet search is just the starting point of your quest for knowledge. Your doctor is your guide and will be able to refer you to useful websites. Many good doctors these days have their own websites, and you can tap into these if you need reliable information !

You can use the internet for a lot more than just finding health information. You can use it for: getting a second opinion; talking to your doctor ( virtual web visits) , so you don’t need to go to his clinic; finding hospitals and doctors which provide the services you need; storing and organizing your medical records; forming communities with others with a similar problem to find online support; and to shop for medical equipment and supplies. We’ll discuss these additional uses in the next article.


  1. Anonymous5:21 PM

    I am student of medical science. I was searching for medical terminology dictionary . Which contain several medical terms which can help us.

  2. Anonymous5:13 AM

    I'm constantly told by my doctors to stop looking online for medical information. But I find it more useful, and most of the time receive more knowledge about issues than the doctors can give

    Undiagnosed Illness


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