The easiest rule-of-thumb is that the most reliable sites will be either government (.gov), medical school (.edu), research hospital, or professional nonprofit association (.org) sites.

Symptom Checkers

A 2015 NIH-funded study by Harvard Medical School[1] evaluated 23 online symptom checker tools. In the study, about a third of the checkers listed the correct diagnosis for the first choice, and about half listed the correct diagnosis within the top three possible diagnoses. The checkers performed much better in terms of advice on when (and how urgently) to seek medical care however, so the researchers concluded that these tools can be helpful, but should not replace a real medical diagnosis from a healthcare provider.

Five Quick Questions (from nih.gov). If you’re visiting an online health site for the first time or downloading a new app, ask these five questions:

  1. Who runs or created the site or app? Can you trust them?
  2. What is the site or app promising or offering? Do its claims seem too good to be true?
  3. When was its information written or reviewed? Is it up-to-date?
  4. Where does the information come from? Is it based on scientific research?
  5. Why does the site or app exist? Is it selling something?

Reliable Resources

In the Digital Maine Library, which anyone in the State of Maine has free access to: https://library.digitalmaine.org

  • MedlinePlus – MedlinePlus is the National Institutes of Health’s Web site for patients and their families for reliable, up-to-date health information about diseases, conditions, and wellness issues in language you can understand.
  • Health and Wellness Resource Center – Find magazines, journals, newspapers, definitions, directories, videos, & reference information on: Medicine, Nutrition, Diseases, Public Health, Pregnancy, Prescription Drugs, etc. Included are links to diet, cancer, health assessment sites & government databases. Includes 700+ videos from a consumer health video library.

CompareMaine is a useful tool for comparing the costs of common medical procedures in Maine. Are you having a colonoscopy? A hip replacement? This tool will give you the costs of these procedures in facilities statewide.

[1] https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2015/07/self-diagnosis-on-internet-not-good-practice/