Where are you going for your medical information?

Be selective about Internet resources

As part of her job as a health education specialist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Fran London, MS, RN, works as a nurse in The Emily Center, the consumer health library. Nurses at the center research answers to questions about child health and illness posed by parents from all over Arizona who either visit the library, call, or e-mail questions.

"As the Internet has become more accessible and has included more good information, the questions that are brought to us get more complex or difficult to answer," reports London.

To find the answers posed by consumers, she and her colleagues search web sites open to everyone as well as health-related databases that Phoenix Children’s Hospital has subscribed to, such as OVID and MD Consult.

The information provided to families depends on their questions, says London. It ranges from evidence-based clinical information, to scientific research, to reliable and valid practical advice from other families that have had the same experiences.

Some questions parents have come to the library with involve new diagnoses such as neurofibromatosis, irritable bowel disease with systemic juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and a premature baby with a grade III intraventricular hemorrhage. Other families ask about ongoing problems, such as how to best manage the behavior of a child with bipolar disorder or what will be the course of recovery of a child who has had brain trauma. "The answers to all of these questions were found using our Internet resources," she explains.

Years ago when London researched her master’s thesis, she did it manually looking through rows and rows of books such as the Cumulative Index to Nursing, Allied Health Literature, and Index Medicus.

"In comparison, search engines are a breeze," London points out. "I love searching PubMed, and within minutes finding research on my topic and immediately printing the article."

Good resources

For research London uses sites approved by the Health on the Net Foundation Code of Conduct for medical and health web sites and peer-reviewed journal articles as well as sources that she and other nurses at The Emily Center have found to be reliable.

The web sites she returns to time and again because they offer valid, reliable information include the following:

This site accesses the U.S. National Library of Medicine with information on health topics, drugs, and a medical encyclopedia. Information also is available in Spanish.

This site offers patient handout material on more than 500 conditions and disorders. The clinical information is written in conjunction with the American Academy of Emergency Medicine.

Medem’s medical library provides consumers with reliable health care information from introductory to advanced texts.

PubMed is a service of the National Library of Medicine, providing access to more than 12 million MedLine citations dating back to the mid-1960s and additional life science journals. PubMed includes links to many sites providing full-text articles and other related resources.

MD Consult is a subscription web site aimed at physicians. Its purpose is to aid in patient education.

The Clearinghouse is a public resource for evidence-based clinical practice guidelines.

The Atlanta-based CDC has a section titled "Health Topics A to Z."

This is the advanced search page for the Federal Drug Administration web site on sections such as "Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition" and "Center for Drug Evaluation & Research."

Site includes a health library with information on prevention and wellness, diseases and conditions, and alternative medicine. It also has a medical dictionary, encyclopedia, and journals.

This site’s selections include healthy living, health care, diseases and conditions, and health protection.

This web site from The university’s library for health information provides information on illness and attaining a healthy lifestyle.

The search engines London prefers are Google, www.google.com, and Vivisimo, http://vivisimo.com.

One downside to providing consumers information from Internet research is the reading level of the information.

"I wish there was more patient education material on the Internet that is written in keeping with SAM [Suitability Assessment of Materials] readability standards so our learners can easily understand what they need to do to get and keep themselves healthy," says London.

In addition to working in The Emily Center, she develops the teaching materials produced in house and helps staff improve their patient education skills as part of her job duties as health education specialist. London has found it more difficult to find information on the Internet that describes how to best provide patient and family education and how to assess learning needs or evaluate understanding than information on general health topics. There is information on health literacy issues, some on aspects of different cultures, and some on adult education principles, she says.

[Editor’s note: Patient Education Management would like to cover research on a more regular basis. If you find the Internet a vital tool for meeting your job duties please contact: Susan Cort Johnson, editor, Patient Education Management, P.O. Box 64, Westwood, CA 96137; telephone: (530) 256-2749; e-mail: suscortjohn@onemain.com. If e-mailing, please state in the subject section of the message that the information is on Internet research for a PEM article.]


For more information about Internet research, contact:

Fran London, MS, RN, Health Education Specialist, The Emily Center, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, 1919 E. Thomas Road, Phoenix, AZ 85016-7710. Telephone: (602) 546-1395. Fax: (602) 546-1408. E-mail: flondon@phoenixchildrens.com. Web site: www.phoenixchildrens.com.