Tuesday, April 24, 2007


When the kids (or you) get sick, there’s no better tool than the Internet for checking out symptoms and finding a range of possible fixes, from mainstream to alternative to old wives' tales. But sorting through all the information you may find is vital. Is the advice you’re getting coming from a recognized researcher, or the 21st century version of a snake oil salesman? You need a list of reliable health sites you can count on as soon as fevers start to rise and everyone feels lousy. But for those in-between times, advice for sifting through the advice is just as important. Here’s some of both:

You can find links to pre-screened health care sites in general, and New York State services in particular, on the Health Information Center at Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls. Included is Crandall Medical Librarian Guinevere Forshey’s useful article called “The ABC’s of Evaluating Online Consumer Health Information.” Among her suggestions:

Ask yourself “Am I getting both sides of the issue?” Opinions are different from facts and they should be clearly stated as opinions. “Are they trying to sell me something?” A quality health site will not disguise advertising as facts. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Look for sites that give the author’s education or training. Good websites will have contact information that is easy to find and will include a phone number, postal and email addresses.

Forshey recommends Medline Plus from the National Library of Medicine & the National Institute of Health as a great place to get started. It has info on all kinds of topics, as well as its own list of links about interpreting and evaluating health websites. There’s even a medical encyclopedia and dictionary and links to health news from the last 30 days.

Forshey’s picks for parents include KidsHealth (“up-to-date information about growth, food and fitness, childhood infections, immunizations, lab tests, medical and surgical conditions, and the latest treatments”) and Family Doctor (“great information on common conditions from the American Academy of Family Physicians”). Both sites have facts for grownups, a fun section on the human body for kids, and topics teens are interested in, such as eating disorders and sex. Another Forshey standout is the Parents' Common Sense Encyclopedia by pediatrician Jeffrey Hull. It’s a quick-reference online parenting manual for questions about chilblains, knock knees, and other common childhood ailments. A library of pediatric textbooks for patients and health professionals are available at the Virtual Pediatric Hospital. And the medical library Medem has a section on children's health, as well as a free monthly newsletter, the Medem Smart Parents' Health Source e-mail service.

For some parents, sources like the ones above may take too much of a medical approach to some problems, especially behavioral questions like co-sleeping and discipline. Finding qualified experts who are open to alternative parenting options is hard, but AskDrSears may be a good choice. The Sears clan -- William Sears, MD, his wife, Martha Sears, RN, and their sons James and Robert, also pediatricians – have shared their advice with both TV news shows and attachment parenting magazines like Mothering. Their website is full of opinionated insight into breast and bottle feeding, sleep problems, fussy babies and other parenting concerns.

Nor should die-hard skeptics worry. There’s a site for you, too. Quackwatch, written by psychiatrist Stephen Barrett, is on a mission to attack misleading advertising and investigate questionable claims. If nothing else, his articles – on infomercials, homeopathic remedies and acupuncture -- will makes you think twice about alternative medicine. Barrett is also behind the Internet Health Pilot, billed as “Your Gateway to Reliable Health Information.” These related sites give searching strategies, tips for telling if a site is “quacky,” and a links to sites they like.

One of those sites is Keep Kids Healthy, written by pediatrician Vincent Ianelli. Most sites will give you medical advice, but Ianelli’s is the only one I’ve seen that delivers it in the form of haiku:


A bark like a seal
Trouble breathing and hoarse cry.
Try some steam or mist.

One final note: Forshey advises always checking with your healthcare provider before following any medical advice on the Web.