Judge: web sites for health

December 28, 2007 0 Comments

The medical research literature is very complex. You need specialised knowledge of the subject, the scientific methods used and the terminology to be able to understand it fully.

The nature and strength of science is in debate. Scientists test and challenge each others’ work until they reach agreement. This approach is very powerful at building up knowledge and understanding. However, it is not helpful or comfortable for the health consumer looking for certainty, for example:

  • a piece of work can be out of date, overtaken by further research;
  • experts can have different opinions about the research;
  • professional advice can vary between different countries;
  • some researchers’ ideas can be at odds with the usual opinion.

To produce good quality coverage of medical research:

  • set up an Advisory Medical Panel, who can advise if a piece of research is relevant and up to date;
  • ask medical experts to write about current and new research for your site;
  • develop lay-expertise:
    (a) a lay-expert is a member of the public, often a patient or a carer, who has spent a lot of time reading and learning about a specific medical condition. They can know as much about this small area of medicine as some health professionals.

If you highlight current or new research on your site or in your newsletter:

  • give a lay person’s summary;
  • give the full reference to the original article.

There are a number of useful sources to the medical research literature. Here are some examples.

  • National electronic Library for Health (NeLH) (http://www.nelh.nhs.uk) [Opens in new browser window] NeLH is produced by the NHS. It contains good quality information that provides the evidence for health care. Though aimed at the health professional, most of the site is freely available to the public too. A number of the databases are also free to the public, such as the ‘Cochrane Library’ and ‘Clinical Evidence’.
  • MEDLINEplus (http://medlineplus.gov/) [Opens in new browser window] MEDLINEplus is produced by the US government. It is a gateway to health information for the health consumer. It provides information on conditions, a medical encyclopaedia and medical dictionaries. For every condition covered, you can click on a link to MEDLINE for a pre-set search of recent research articles. MEDLINE is the top database to the international medical research literature.
  • MEDLINE (http://www.pubmed.gov) [Opens in new browser window]
    MEDLINE is produced by the US government. It is the top database to the international medical research literature. It is made available free on the Web. You will have to learn how to use and search the database. Detailed help and a tutorial are available from the MEDLINE site.

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