Essential Tips for Doing Your Own Health Care Research

Dear Readers,

his issue of our newsletter picks up from where we left off last month: separating fact from hype in the health care news that washes over us from the television, Internet, friends and others.

This month: More lessons on how to look at Internet articles with a skeptical eye.  And more resources for unbiased health care information.

The good news is that we live in a golden era when patients can really educate themselves thoroughly about any aspect of their health that we want to know about.

The bad news is that we live in an era when it’s possible for any patient to be badly misled by slick, biased, or just wrong information.

You just have to know where to look.

As before:  Feel free to “unsubscribe” on the button at the bottom of this email. But if you find it helpful, pass it along to people you care about.

WebMD: Another Hype Alert

Last month we reviewed a reviewer:, a web site that systematically and thoroughly reviews health news and rates the quality of the stories on a one to five star scale.  I gave it five stars for overall excellence.

Shortly after that, the New York Times Magazine had a piece about WebMD, a popular website that the Times rapped — rightly — as “a hypochondriac time suck,” and more importantly, tilted toward expensive prescription drugs. (Read the Times article here.) Too often WebMD has alarmist pieces that act as an extended Infomercial for the pharmaceutical products that sponsor the site.

So we checked the reviews of WebMD articles on HealthNewsReview.

Sure enough, while there were times that the WebMD writers did a decent job covering an issue, there were many other times that the reviewers caught WebMD wholesale cribbing from industry press releases.  Click here to see a list of the WebMD stories with the ratings from the HealthNewsReview folks.

Nothing wrong with a bit of copy-and-pasting now and then. But when the press release is the ONLY SOURCE for  the article, shouldn’t readers be warned that what they’re reading is an Infomercial and not real journalism?

Are there better options for your Internet health research? Indeed. Read on below…

Top Sources for Reliable Health Care Information on the Internet

Here are some of my favorite free resources for unbiased, hype-free, non-commercial health information on the Internet.


MedlinePlus brings together authoritative information from government agencies and private health care organizations. It was put together by the National Institutes of Health with the National Library of Medicine, which has long operated Medline, the premier search engine for the ever growing universe of medical journal articles from all over the world (16 million articles in 5,200 journals, at last count).

Medline-Plus has preformatted Medline searches to help you get started in researching your disease. MedlinePlus also has extensive information about drugs, an illustrated medical encyclopedia, interactive patient tutorials, and health news.

This is a noncommercial collaboration that brings together 3,800 top experts in all medical specialties who write, edit, and peer-review a comprehensive set of articles on 7,400 medical topics. Hundreds of these topics written for patients are available free, but for detailed information you have to pay a fee. 

This site got lavish praise from the same New York Times article that slammed WebMD. One caveat: MayoClinic takes drug company ads too; it’s just that the line between news and advertising is a little less blurry than on the WebMD site.

Harvard Health Reports  

Harvard Medical School’s site for patients is chock full of useful, free special reports on a host of common health issues. You can also find a place on the same site to subscribe to the Harvard Health Newsletter and several other related newsletters.  Truth is that you’ll get 99% of the up-to-date stuff you need from the free part of the web site.

One Click to a Healthy Diet

The Department of Nutrition at Harvard’s School of Public Health has put together a Healthy Eating Pyramid that beats the official government’s diet guidelines in two ways: more up-to-date science and no agribusiness influence. Click here to read all about it.

My patient safety blog had an article about the difference between the Harvard guidelines and the official USDA/HHS guidelines. Read it here.

For non-clickers, here’s a quick summary of the Harvard diet advice:

Go with plants. Eating a plant-based diet is healthiest. Choose plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats, like olive and canola oil.

Cut way back on American staples. Red meat and processed meat, refined grains, potatoes, sugary drinks, and salty snacks are part of American culture, but they’re also really unhealthy. Go for a plant-based diet rich in non-starchy vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. And if you eat meat, fish and poultry are the best choices.


To your continued health!

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Patrick Malone
Patrick Malone & Associates