Find answers to your medical questions with these five sites

Want to find go to learn about medicine or find out why your neck is sore? Check out these health research sites.

I am, sadly, well-acquainted with medical research sites. (I broke my back years ago, and am still dealing with the recovery.) But while everyone knows WebMD and probably uses the site to find out about medical conditions, you might be surprised to know there are a slew of sites that offer similar service, providing outstanding medical information. I've found these sites to be good resources.

HealthiNation
While some sites deliver articles of medical information, HealthiNation uses videos to inform you about what a condition is all about.

Overall, HealthiNation is designed quite well and its easy to search for videos. The site doesn't boast articles like those you'll find on sites like WebMD, but its videos are extremely informative and I found that when I searched for simple issues like "back pain," the clips were just as useful as when I searched for more complex topics like diabetes.

HealthiNation's videos are split into general health, men's health, women's health, and "true life stories," which detail how one person faced medical conditions in their lives. Each section features information that's worth perusing through, regardless of the topic.

The videos on HealthiNation were outstanding. Each is clearly defined and once you fire them up, you'll be presented with a wealth of knowledge by health care professionals. But because HealthiNation relies on videos, the scope of its medical coverage isn't nearly as great as I would have liked and it only covers general topics. A specific condition, such as spondylolysis, isn't included on the site, though it is on competing services, like WebMD. Realizing that, it's best to use HealthiNation when you want information on general health topics.

Livestrong

Although Livestrong, which is co-founded by bicyclist Lance Armstrong, is touted as a "lifestyle" site that helps you achieve greater health and fitness, it's also a great resource for health research.

The first thing that will strike you about Livestrong is its almost unbearable design. It's yellow, black, and cluttered. It's a mess.

That said, the site is rich in features and its search tool is outstanding. Instead of trying to find information on the home page, immediately enter your query into the search box and you'll be brought to a results page featuring information on a wide array of topics. From back pain to diabetes, the site not only features videos like HealthNation, which are narrated by health care professionals, but it also boasts informative articles on all the topics. I was impressed by how much information the site actually has on any given topic.

But much like HealthiNation, Livestrong doesn't support obscure ailments and I was a little disappointed that in the entire discussion on back pain, the site failed to address individual issues that might affect different areas of the spine. Regardless, Livestrong is a unique destination that makes using it every day worthwhile if you want to be healthier.

Medpedia
The Medpedia Project is a joint effort on the part of Harvard Medical School, Stanford School of Medicine, Berkeley School of Public Health, and other global health organizations that hope the site will change "how the world will assemble, maintain, critique and access medical knowledge." It delivers.

The site features a repository of up-to-date medical information, contributed and maintained by health professionals from around the world. The site also boasts a professional network and directory for visitors to find health professionals and organizations, a communities of interest section where medical experts and patients can share conditions and treatments, and a growing knowledge base featuring information on health issues ranging from back pain to diabetes.

I was generally impressed by the level of detail Medpedia offered. The site's knowledge base is a wiki that allows you to search for specific ailments or ask general questions that might already have been answered by the community of doctors. At first glance, the idea that a health site is a Wiki may turn some off, but to ensure all the information on the site is accurate, Medpedia only allows physicians and those with a Ph.D. to edit the articles, and only once their credentials are certified. That cuts down on the number of erroneous bits of information that crop up on the site and, in my opinion, makes the site more reliable than a resource like Wikipedia, which anyone can modify.

When I entered "back pain" into the site's search field, I was brought to a results page that not only featured a Wiki containing general information about the ailment and links to other, related Medpedia Wikis, but also a series of answers provided by doctors to questions asked by the site's users. And although some weren't directly targeted at my query, I could have easily asked my own set of questions, which would have been answered directly by a medical professional.

I should note, though, that Medpedia is still in beta and was launched Tuesday. Because of that, the site doesn't offer every conceivable health topic and a few obscure conditions are still missing. But more Wiki pages are being added each day and the community of doctors and patients is growing. It might not be WebMD yet, but it's off to a good start. Read more on Medpedia .

WebMD

WebMD is the leader in the health research space and it boasts more features and options than any other site in this roundup. WebMD is simply the best health research tool on the market.

My biggest complaint with WebMD has nothing to do with its information and everything to do with its design: it's ugly. I was happy to see that the site features a prominent search box at the top of the page, but its home page is cluttered with blogs, articles, and other information that I ignore because there's simply too much information packed into a small page.

The real value of WebMD is seen in its search. From something simple like "back pain" to something complex like "spondylolysis," the site has it all. I was impressed by the wealth of information WebMD provides and its simple articles actually provided me with more information that the videos on HealthiNation or the articles on Livestrong. It was outstanding.

Beyond its information service, WebMD's drug finder is an outstanding tool that helps you learn all about a particular prescription medicine you're using. It comes in handy when you need to find out if you're experiencing sickness or a side effect from a medication and it's an ideal tool when you want to determine if a generic brand of a particular drug is suitable in place of the name brand. It's easily one of my favorite tools and one that shouldn't be overlooked when you're using WebMD.

WebMD is a great service that will provide you with all the health information you're looking for in as little time as possible. And although its design is downright awful and it should be addressed, its articles make up for that lackluster design and make it the best health research service in this roundup.

Wellsphere
Wellsphere is a nice health research site that aims at making you healthier through education. It works--the site's articles deliver basic information like symptoms and treatment, and its prevention information is the best on the market.

Wellsphere looks like a simple site when you surf to the home page, but once you dig deeper and start searching for medical conditions, you'll be shocked to find that it's actually a complex site featuring basic information on an ailment, question and answers between doctors and patients, news, pictures, videos, and a communities tab that allows you to compare notes with other users.

Although Wellsphere doesn't offer as many articles as WebMD, the site and its writers, which are health experts from Stanford and other prominent institutions around the U.S., provide a good amount of information. From the simple overview to the ability to ask a specific question to the "health maven," the site's possibilities are endless.

On a simple search like back pain, I was astonished at the level of detail Wellsphere provided. Not only did it provide articles detailing back pain and how to address it, but I was able to ask questions which were answered promptly by a professional and its videos were outstanding, providing more information than comparable clips on HealthiNation.

Wellsphere is an outstanding service. Although it doesn't have the same coverage as WebMD, it's just as informative and its "health maven" tool is outstanding. If you don't want to deal with the clutter and ugliness of WebMD, check out Wellsphere. I think you'll like it.

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About the author

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.

 

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