Top 10 Most Useful Consumer Health Websites

1-20-2013 4-21-06 PM

Prompted by the recent PEW survey which finds that one in three US adults turn to the Internet to research health symptoms before going to a physician, the LA Times runs a story evaluating consumer-aimed websites that offer online health information.

Consumer demand has increased for online symptom checkers and health information databases. The newspaper interviewed physicians to get a sense of how they are addressing the issue with patients and what resources they are recommending.

Online health expert Kevin Pho, MD of KevinMD says, "In general, I like sources affiliated with hospitals." Websites with addresses ending in .org and .gov are also good, he said.

Many physicians, like Wendy Swanson, MD at Seattle Children’s Hospital, recommend government or association websites, such as the CDC’s website, or that of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The Medical Library Association (MLA) has published a consumer guide to finding health information on the web, including a Top 10 list of most useful consumer health websites. Not surprisingly, WebMD did not make the list.

  • – the official website for The National Cancer Institute (NCI).
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – The CDC website provides resources about diseases, conditions, and other special topics arranged under "Health Topics A-Z," and "Travelers’ Health."
  • – Operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), all of the information on this site has been written and reviewed by physicians and patient education professionals at the AAFP.
  • HealthFinder – The Department of Health and Human Services sponsors this gateway consumer health website, whose goal is "to improve consumer access to selected health information from government agencies, their many partner organizations, and other reliable sources that serve the public interest."
  • HIV InSite – A project of the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), HIV InSite is designed as a gateway website linking patients to in-depth information about particular aspects of HIV/AIDS
  • KidsHealth  – The Nemours Foundation sponsors this site, providing doctor-approved health information about children from before birth through adolescence.
  • MayoClinic – The Mayo Clinic has committed to providing patient education to the general public through this website. Editors of the site include more than 2,000 physicians, scientists, writers, and educators at the Mayo Clinic .
  • MedlinePlus – MedlinePlus is the National Library of Medicine’s website for consumer health information. The site offers authoritative, up to date health information without advertisements.
  • NIH SeniorHealth – Sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, NIH Senior Health maintains a database of health information specifically geared toward older adults.
  • NOAH: New York Online Access to Health – Sponsored by New York State, NOAH’s mission is "to provide high-quality, full-text information for consumers that is accurate, timely, relevant, and unbiased.”


Since the publication of MLA’s list, NOAH has shut down and is redirecting traffic to MedlinePlus. Since there is something fundamentally anti-climactic about a nine-item Top 10 list, I’ll recommend one of my own.

  • Epocrates Disease Lookup – Epocrates is known largely for its drug reference library, but it has an fairly robust and straight forward disease library as well. I like it because it presents information based on a symptom such as evaluation of chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain etc. It then guides the user through a differential diagnosis of what could be the underlying cause, sorted by common / uncommon.  Each disease on the differential diagnosis list has a detail page that presents an overview, common and uncommon associated symptoms, risk factors, common diagnostic tests, treatment options, and references. It’s free, comprehensive, clinically accurate, and well organized.

Besides Epocrates, what sites would you recommend to complete the list?

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