A few alternatives to Dr Google
July 31, 2014 1:33 AM   Subscribe

Dr Google always thinks it's cancer, except when it's lupus. So how do you find reliable health information online? The (US) National Institute on Aging has some good rules of thumb, and the National Library of Medicine has a simple tutorial. Many of us, though, might prefer a list of general trustworthy resources. Here are some of my favorites, including some Australian and UK resources that American MeFites might not know.

For general health information or the "exhaustive list" approach, your friendly government often provides an excellent starting point (and you may find that after scratching the surface, others' governments are just as helpful):
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Health Direct Australia
Better Health Channel (state of Victoria, Australia)
Medline Plus (US National Library of Medicine)

If it *is* cancer, the government is again here to help you:
Cancer Australia
US National Cancer Institute

And there are plenty of nonprofits that want to help
Cancer Help UK
Macmillan Cancer Support
American Cancer Society

Finally, if you want to replace Dr. Google in the most literal sense, Patient.co.uk (a private company) has a symptom checker that provides top 10, red-flagged (needing urgent attention), and most common diagnoses for your symptom profile, age group, sex and global region of residency.
posted by gingerest (21 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
NHS is wonderful for children's health issues. Plainly written and with a sort of "it'll be alright, let's have a cup of tea" calmness and clarity. Also easy to navigate at 2am when you are convinced that rash is scabies. It was, but we were much calmer after reading NHS' advice vs WebMD.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:51 AM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

For Musculo-Skeletal (MSK) conditions, like back pain, arthritis, and yes, even lupus, there's good info here: www.arthritisvic.org.au

Disclosure: I do some consulting to Arthritis Victoria, both paid and pro bono.
posted by But tomorrow is another day... at 2:10 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've actually been in a doctor's consulting room twice when he's consulted Google right in front of me. Another time I was having a mole removed under local anaesthetic and the surgeon looked over to see who'd just texted his phone.

Times are changing.
posted by colie at 2:52 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

My first go to: NHS
posted by Mister Bijou at 3:08 AM on July 31, 2014

Never, never, NEVER look up symptoms online. Otherwise, like Monty Burns, you'll have every disease known to man. (SLYT)
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:20 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've used the NHS site and my only problem with it was that it made me sad about the relative attitudes and policies in the US vs. the UK. I had lumbar surgery last winter and looked up this page on recovering from such a procedure and got depressed. The UK site says that they'll let you go home in 1 - 4 days while the US hospital did it as outpatient surgery and kicked me out the the door in less than a day. It also says that you can go back to work in six to twelve weeks which made this American laugh bitterly. Who the hell can afford to take twelve weeks off of work?
posted by octothorpe at 4:17 AM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd just like to add patient.co.uk, which also has reliable NHS information sheet type information, including some for health professionals (often really helpful if you want to be an informed patient). I've had several GPs direct me towards it for various things, and I've never not found it helpful.
posted by Acheman at 4:29 AM on July 31, 2014

NHS is wonderful for children's health issues. Plainly written and with a sort of "it'll be alright, let's have a cup of tea" calmness and clarity.

One hundred percent this. I don't understand why more sites don't copy their flow. I guess more anxiety-inducing sites get more clicks?
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:29 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

OK, I admit it, I read your post too quickly and missed that you'd linked to it too! Still think it's good though. A tip - look for the apple with a plus sign for the most detailed information.
posted by Acheman at 4:30 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's never Lupus.
posted by Splunge at 6:07 AM on July 31, 2014

99% of health information information on the Web is pure quackery. My go-to site for accurate information is the Mayo Clinic.

Good information about the most egregious quacks is at Quackwatch.
posted by KRS at 6:36 AM on July 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

We need a data base of how frequently certain patient complaints correspond to specific diseases, except the margin of error would be epic.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:38 AM on July 31, 2014

I just joined patientslikeme which is I think attempting to do that, jeffburdges. It was interesting to see how quickly three of my related conditions mapped onto a small group of people like me!
posted by viggorlijah at 7:37 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow, Quackwatch is like a list of Dr. Oz episodes.
posted by Splunge at 7:49 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

About 10 years ago my mom was diagnosed with a rare pulmonary disease. The doctors told her that the form of the disease she had affects two people in 1,000,000. We naturally did some research, it being a rare disease, and by all accounts the prognosis was 1-3 years.

She had open heart surgery to correct the atrial defect ultimately responsible for causing the disease, and is doing very well.

I fired Dr. Google after that.
posted by mudpuppie at 8:54 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like the idea of Quackwatch, but a lot of the articles are really out of date, and there's a lot of trendy health things that I'd like to see more perspectives on. For example, the genetic testing page was last updated over 10 years ago, meaning 23andMe isn't included.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:09 AM on July 31, 2014

For skin stuff DermNetNZ is very good. Best info I've found for PMLE.
posted by monopas at 2:17 PM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Columbia University has a pretty great Q&A service called Go Ask Alice!, replete with archives.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:58 PM on July 31, 2014

I've also found Vagina Pagina to be a fairly good resource for reproductive stuff, even though it started out on LiveJournal and is community-based.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 4:04 PM on July 31, 2014

One of my favorite resources in this area is the NIH National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine's website. It lays out the actual state of evidence for and against any kind of alternative medicine you could ever wonder about, clearly and concisely, but with tons of citations so you can go as deeply into it as you want. It also has a sort of consumer guide for choosing a practitioner so that if you do decide to pursue one of these treatments, you can be as safe as possible.
posted by juliapangolin at 4:24 PM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

The "beyond the basics" pages at uptodate are pretty reasonable and accurate if you're a generally well informed person who wants to know more (with citations and external links). Otoh they're teasers for the gated "the basics" that are easier to understand and the MD level articles that they have on the same topics.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 4:47 AM on August 2, 2014

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