Back to top
Article

Website reviews

21 August 06

Websites that provide free medical information

by Iain Nisbet


I cannot be the only solicitor to have found themselves in the unfortunate position of having requested medical records or reports, only to discover that the documents in question are indecipherable. Even if the handwriting is legible, the terminology is unfamiliar. Many medical and pharmacological terms will not be known to those in the legal profession, but help is available on the following websites.

NetDoctor

www.netdoctor.co.uk

First, I must confess that my knowledge of this site is a product of my own hypochondria, rather than any work-based research. However, in addition to being a useful place to search for the possible signs of concussion and remedies for heartburn during pregnancy, it provides access to an online medical encyclopaedia of diseases, medicines and examinations. One of the major benefits of this site is that it is substantially free (rather than subscription based, as some of its competitors are) and based in the UK. Its geographical base is important because medicines must all now be known by the same name across the EU (the recommended International Non-proprietary Name or rINN) – which may differ from the name used elsewhere in the world.

The disease database is actually a bit of a misnomer, since it also covers other things which aren’t diseases at all – like scorpion stings, for example. It deals with a large number of ailments and complaints but, in part because each entry is accompanied by a useful article by a medical practitioner, it is not comprehensive. Having said that, the articles are really useful for providing a good grounding in your knowledge of any of the listed conditions.

The medicines database has over 3,000 entries, is written by pharmacists and (apparently) is updated daily. Thus, it would seem to be a complete resource of medicines (or as near complete as makes no difference). You can search by name (rINN or brand name) or by the type of illness being treated. The information comes in a standard format which details the effects of the drug, whether it is prescription only, what it is commonly used to treat, effects with other medications, side effects, other names it is known by and other drugs with the same active ingredients.

As for examinations, it is a bit of a cheek calling this an encyclopaedia since it has only 32 entries. If the type of examination you are interested in happens to be among this select few, the information is pretty good and is again presented by way of an article written by a practitioner in that field of medicine.

Final mention should be made of the Ask the Doctor service, where you can email a medical query if you cannot find the answer elsewhere on the site. This is a little like an agony column in a magazine, since the disclaimer (including legal waiver) requires you to consent to having your question reproduced anonymously on the website, thus providing yet more useful content.

I heartily recommend this site.

InteliHealth

www.intelihealth.com

Actually, this site is pretty similar to the previous one, but based in the United States. It has much of the same sort of content (and probably a little more of it, in truth) and also much more in the way of a consumer’s viewpoint of medical services. The main reason to draw your attention to it however, is the Merriam Webster Medical Dictionary. It doesn’t have a separate domain or even sub-domain, so the URL is a little ungainly. I suggest that you follow my directions and then bookmark it. From the InteliHealth home page, click on “Look it Up”. On that page, click on the medical dictionary link on the right hand side. The dictionary provides entries for most, if not all, medical terms – even if they are not diseases or examinations. The definitions given are short, but informative. In keeping with the dictionary theme, a guide to pronunciation and sometimes even etymology is given.

RxList

www.rxlist.com

and

Safe Medication

www.safemedication.com

These two sites do substantially the same job, which is providing information about various medicines in response to search queries by visitors. The Safe Medication site is related to the earlier InteliHealth site, but is the more basic of the two. The information received appears to be taken word for word from the little leaflets you get inside the box the medicine comes in. On the RxList site, you will get more information. Arguably, there may be too much information for the average (im)patient user. However, I suppose there may be circumstances in which you would need to know the molecular weight, structural formula or clinical pharmacology information of a particular drug, and in those circumstances you should have a bookmark to the RxList ready and waiting.