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  • InsideTrack
  • February 04, 2015

    Finding Online Medical Information: Start With Free Resources

    Diane Duffey

    Feb. 4, 2015 – Avoid Google, Yahoo, or Bing, and go directly to the source for answers to questions about medicine and its practice. From symptoms to pricing to hospital and doctor rankings, no doctor bill is needed for information available at these medical-related websites.

    Finding reliable medical information online can be an expensive venture. Most authoritative knowledge still resides in peer-reviewed journals. Most peer-reviewed journals make their articles available for an ever-increasing fee, and their database subscriptions for corporate clients typically are cost-prohibitive. Nevertheless, there is a wealth of good information that can be accessed for free by nonmedical professionals.

    National Institutes of Health Resources

    The sites of the National Institutes of Health and the National Library of Medicine are excellent starting points for research. The National Library of Medicine’s Health Information page is a portal to several sources which deserve mention.

    Diane DuffeyDiane Duffey is the Director of Research Services at Habush Habush & Rottier S.C. and works in the firm’s Milwaukee office. She has frequently presented on topics related to Internet research for legal professionals, and has authored articles for The Verdict, Wisconsin Law Journal, and Wisconsin Lawyer. She earned her B.A. degree from Marquette University and her Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from UW-Milwaukee. She is an active member and past president of the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin.

    PubMed, the online resource for finding medical articles, is possibly the most comprehensive and freely available source of bibliographic information on the Internet. Healthcare guidelines can be found at the National Guideline Clearinghouse. The National Library of Medicine’s Electronic Databases & Directories page is worth investigating; it has an abundance of interesting research tools, including the NIH’s Clinical Trials, and TOXNET, which offers detailed data on hazardous substances and their effects. The NIH site also connects users with specific entities under the NIH umbrella, such as the National Cancer Institute.

    MedlinePlus, a multi-faceted reference resource within the NLM sites, includes a medical encyclopedia, information on drugs and dietary supplements, and several sources on health topics like cancer and AIDS. The MedlinePlus Directories page has links to resources with information on hospitals, clinics and other facilities, doctors, dentists, etc.

    Other federal government resources include but are not limited to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. These sites have databases and extensive reports and data on statistics, trends, events, and more.

    Doctors, Health Care Providers

    The American Medical Association provides a collection of links to states’ websites for looking up doctor license and discipline information. Wisconsin providers can be looked up at the license/credential search site for license status and discipline. Illinois goes a step further with its Physician Profile Search; this site also includes malpractice suits in the past 10 years.

    The AMA’s DocFinder can be helpful for tracking down contact information on a doctor in or out of state. You can see what board certifications your doctor has (requires free registration) at Certification Matters from the American Board of Medical Specialties.

    A Web 2.0 resource for patients to submit reviews for their doctors is Healthgrades. Avvo, the attorney review site, used to have a doctor component, but this was sold in 2012 to a company called HealthTap. To date, it does not appear that HealthTap has made available a doctor review service; however, you can “tap” a pool of doctors for health related questions via the site.

    Hospitals, procedures

    US News and World Report annually ranks the nation’s hospitals qualitatively by specialty. The American Hospital Association offers profiles of hospitals (number of beds, etc.) across the country; this requires your name and an email address. Information on Wisconsin hospitals is at Wisconsin Hospital Association’s WHA Information Data Center (see the Guide to Wisconsin Hospitals under Publications).

    This site also has a tool that gives estimated costs of certain medical procedures, called PricePoint. Healthcare costs can also be researched at the national level using the Healthcare Bluebook Site Fair Price search tool.

    The Wisconsin Department of Health provides a search interface for healthcare agencies and other providers regulated by the Division of Quality Assurance, including violations. The Wisconsin Department of Health Service’s Consumer Guide page provides information on filing complaints and dealing with problems regarding health care providers, entities, or medical plans.

    Miscellaneous Resources

    Prominent healthcare entities provide informative tools and data, such as the Mayo Clinic or Rush University Medical Center.

    Gray’s Anatomy is the classic source for anatomical illustrations. The Merck Manuals is a reference for symptoms, diagnosis, and therapy. Merriam-Webster has a browsable Medical Dictionary, and MedlinePlus has a searchable one on its home page.

    The Free Medical Journals site is searchable, and worth checking for freely available articles. Also, using your Wisconsin-issued library card can get you access to BadgerLink, which has EBSCO’s Health Source databases of hundreds of full-text medical articles and the Lexi-PAL Drug Guide, as well as consumer health and general science databases.

    For additional sources, please see Bev Butula’s January 2010 InsideTrack article, “Go Vertical With Your Medical Search.”

    While the accessibility of health information on the Internet has created the “cyberchondriac,” or layperson who self-diagnoses based on what is read on the Web, it does still facilitate the retrieval of practical, reliable information for the legal professional.

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