CONSUMER HEALTH: Washington Post Reviews Web Sites
Hoping to shed some light on the "murky world of Internet health and medicine for consumers," the Washington Post today profiles "eight large commercial health information sites that attempt to attract a broad audience." Health writer Craig Stoltz prefaces his review by warning that although many "sites offer what could be some of the most important information for which people turn to the World Wide Web," it is often difficult for consumers to "tell who is providing information, how good it is and what the provider's ulterior motives might be." Stoltz adds that many site operators "are not necessarily committed foremost to meeting [the] public need." The profiled sites include:
- WebMD.com: Owned by Healtheon/WebMD, the site aims to link doctors, patients, hospitals and health plans via one network that streamlines the health care system. More than 100 reporters and editors provide original content, and licensed tools from Yale, A.D.A.M. and Medical Economics are available. According to the Post, highlights include a "symptom checker" that allows users to type in a symptom and find potential diagnoses though interactive question and answer. Drawbacks to the site included topic areas that are not updated with the latest health news and a disclaimer on the "MyMedicalRecord" area warning consumers that the information they submit to will not necessarily "be protected against loss, misuse or alteration by third parties."
- americasdoctor.com: This site, started in 1998 by a Maryland doctor, is the only site to offer "real-time, 24/7 online consultation with board-certified or board-eligible doctors," and plans to focus more on chronic ailments than on general health. The Post hails the "[c]onstant expert chats and communities devoted to many different topics," but knocks the site's outdated information and the long wait for a one-one-one chat with a doctor.
- CBSHealthwatch.com: A partnership between the CBS television network and Medscape, the site hopes to link doctors and patients by providing online medical records, appointment scheduling, prescription fulfillment and more. Most content comes from Medscape staff and freelancers, whose articles are then reviewed by primary care doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. The Post likes the breadth and depth of articles, as well as the "Mini Medical School" education area, but finds the site hard to navigate.
drkoop.com: The Web site founded in 1997 by former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop has enormous financial woes, with experts predicting that the company will either be "bought, merged or folded within months." Content comes from various sources, and is "consistently prudent and hype-resistant," according to the Post. The Post also likes the site's "strong" health insurance information, and the Drug Checker, but notes that the "wall between sponsors and content is not always strong."
- HealthAtoZ.com: Most information for this site, owned by the private firm Medical Network, comes from 25 full-time employees and other part-time contributors. The Post says highlights include an "Ask the Expert" area and an "E-mate" tool to keep track of medical appointments and other personal health needs.
- HealthCentral.com: This site, founded by James Hornthal of Preview Travel and radio doctor Dean Edell, publishes about 150 articles from other sources and 100 original pieces each week. The Post says much of Edell's material is "often short and less substantial than other information," but hails the Best Doctors area, which links to a "well-regarded, fee-based doctor-patient matching service."
- Discoveryhealth.com: This spin-off of Discovery Communications is meant to offer additional information on Discovery television shows and to "attract 'wellness' e-commerce and ... serve 'healthy people who want to stay that way.'" The site features no original news reports and a "weak" search function, according to the Post. But it also has "[g]ood packaging and gathering of news," and an "excellent" database of natural remedies.
- Thriveonline.com: This site is "more a lifestyle site than a medical site," with a focus on "wellness issues," such as nutrition and fitness. Personalized interactive features include advice, quizzes and chat groups (5/16).