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Fam Pract Manag. 1999;6(3):59

Like a lot of family physicians, you are probably witnessing the results of your patients' newfound familiarity with the Inter-net. Patients come to see you carrying information they've printed from web sites, or they ask your opinion about advice they've received from an online health care provider or self-help group.

You can help direct your patients to the very best health information on the 'Net. Three of my favorite sites for a lay audience (and for physicians who want to get a sense of the Internet's tremendous ability to transmit information related to disease and wellness) are Dr. Koop's Community, Health-World Online and the AAFP's online patient information, now in its own site:

It seems everyone knows and trusts C. Everett Koop, MD, former U.S. surgeon general. The site that bears his name has a wealth of information on prevention, specific conditions and diseases, nutrition and medications. It also offers unique services like the Personal Insurance Center, which helps visitors pick a health insurance plan, and the Personal Drugstore, through which patients can send prescription refill information to selected local pharmacies (something you'll appreciate if you've ever stood in line at your neighborhood drugstore!).

I recommend HealthWorld Online largely because of the involvement of Tom Ferguson, MD, senior associate at the Harvard School of Medicine's Center for Clinical Computing and author of Health Online, a guide to consumer health informatics. The site has hundreds of links to health information published by academic institutions and other reputable medical organizations, as well as links to a host of alternative-medicine sites.

The AAFP's contains more than 240 patient handouts originally published in American Family Physician. It also offers 22 self-care flowcharts —annotated, user-friendly resources that help lay people interpret common symptoms and decide when to visit the doctor.

But remember: The caution “caveat tonditor” applies even to these sites. (Tonditor literally means “grazer”; this is as close as I can get to “let the browser beware.”) Advise your patients that when they access online health care information, they should always ask themselves who is paying for the web site and what is the source of its information.

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Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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