1 Where to Find Health Information

Main information sources on health and aging

Changes in our health care system may mean less time with your doctor and other health care providers. Gathering health information from a variety of sources can help you prepare for an office visit or telephone call with your doctor. It may also help you to manage your disease or condition or to care for a family member or friend. Reliable information sources on health and aging include:

  • Trustworthy Web sites.
  • Libraries, including public, college or university, medical school, and hospital/patient health libraries.
  • Government agencies and their publications, including those from the National Institutes of Health and its National Institute on Aging.
  • Professional medical societies, many of which offer "clinical guidelines"Click here for a definition of this term or "consensus statements"Click here for a definition of this term, such as the American Medical Association or the American Academy of Family Physicians.
  • Other health-related, non-profit organizations, such as the Alzheimer's Association, the American Heart Association, or the Arthritis Foundation.
  • Your doctor, as well as information brochures that are often available in his or her office.

Click here for a table that summarizes the strengths and weaknesses of various health information sources.

An introduction to health information on the Internet

In the health care arena, the Internet has achieved the goal of empowering patients to work in tandem with their doctors in the pursuit of better outcomes. 1

Many sources of health information have Web sites. Several general sources, with a few specific examples of each, are listed below.

  • Government agencies
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov)
    National Cancer Institute (http://www.nci.nih.gov)
    National Institutes of Health (NIH) (http://www.nih.gov)
    US Department of Health and Human Services (http://www.dhhs.gov)
  • Professional medical societies, such as
    American Academy of Family Physicians (http://www.familydoctor.org)
    American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons (http://www.orthoinfo.aaos.org)
    American College of Physicians (http://www.acponline.org)
    American Geriatrics Society (http://www.americangeriatrics.org)
  • Non-profit, health-related organizations
    American Diabetes Association (http://www.diabetes.org)
    National Osteoporosis Foundation (http://www.nof.org)
  • Libraries
    Many medical libraries offer health information on the Internet. The National Library of Medicine (NLM), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is the world's largest medical library. The NLM is the creator of the Web-based searchable databases MedLine Plus and PubMed. These databases are explained below.
  • Doctors
    Many individual doctors and medical groups have Web sites that can be found via search enginesClick here for a definition of this term. These sites often offer patient education information about the doctor's specialty and his/her own practice. But remember, doctors' Web sites are designed to give you general background information. Web sites are never a substitute for an office visit and examination, or a conversation with your doctor.

Health Compass Tip: The National Library of Medicine

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is an excellent source of health information.

MedlinePlus (http://medlineplus.gov/) is the National Library of Medicine's Web site for consumer health information. MedlinePlus is also available in Spanish at http://medlineplus.gov/esp/.

NIHSeniorHealth.gov (http://www.nihseniorhealth.gov) is another useful Web site for older adults developed jointly by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM), both part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

PubMed is the NLMs searchable database of over 15 million biological and medical journal articles dating back to the 1950's. PubMed includes links to many sites providing full text articles and other related resources. While PubMed is primarily a resource for scientists and medical professionals, it is accessible to anyone who wants to read original articles that report on medical and biological research findings. You can seach on a topic, author's name, or journal title to find the citationClick here for a definition of this term (listing of article by title, authors' names, name of publication, publication date, etc) and, sometimes, an abstractClick here for a definition of this term or the full text of the article. An abstract is a brief summary of the article, and like the article itself, it will typically include a great deal of specialized terminology because it is written primarily for physicians and other scientists. This can make abstracts (and the articles they are based on) difficult to read and understand.

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