Healthcare Online for Dummies ( by Howard Wolinsky & Judi Wolinsky, Hungry Minds, Inc, ( New York, © 2001, ISBN: 0-7645-0684-6, 296 pp, $22.

The For Dummies® computer book series from Hungry Minds, Inc is written for frustrated computer users who know they aren’t really dumb, but find that PC hardware, software and its unique vocabulary make them feel helpless. This compact volume helps sort out the extensive healthcare sites. I was able to add over a hundred web sites to my bookmark file of favorite healthcare links.

The Wolinskys caution you in using the web: never use it for emergencies. However, to better equip you to prepare for emergencies, it directs you to the American College of Emergency Physicians’ ( site. It also lists specialized subsections for specifics in an emergency, including how to stock your first aid kit.

Dr Koop’s lists drugs and interactions. However, complementary expected effects of drugs used for blood pressure reduction, like ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers, are listed as moderate serious interactions. This explains the calls from patients who think doctors have made a mistake when they have simply added a second antihypertensive to the regimen, a recommended practice.

If you’d like to fill your prescription on the internet, try which lists a number of medications at substantial discounts of 60% to 85% by directing you to online pharmacies. The typical statin drugs listed for $205 for a 90-day supply are offered at 62% reduction. Proton pump inhibitors, Prevacid 30 mg for 90 days listed at $355.00 and Prilosec 20 mg for 90 days listed at $349.00, are discounted to 85%. The site will direct you to a pharmacy. Or, you can research the pharmacies on the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) which is managed by the National Associations of Boards of Pharmacies (NABP) at

For general information on health, try which is arranged into four categories. There is a health library that can find almost any conceivable medical topic by referencing dictionaries and medical encyclopedias. There is a topical section to find health issues related to your age, gender or ethnic background. There is a healthcare section with information about doctors, dentists, public clinics, hospitals, long-term care facilities, nursing homes, health insurance, prescriptions, health fraud, Medicare, Medicaid and medical privacy. There is a directory of healthcare organizations which include carefully selected health information Web sites from government agencies, clearinghouses, nonprofit organizations and universities. I was able to find essentially any medical organization and their official journals in this huge list. Going through the first 100 was very enlightening. For instance, there were dozens of sights for asthma, finding an asthma doctor and support groups. If you’re interest in body reconstruction, you can easily find a plastic surgeon. If you have a friend who has a baby with Down’s syndrome, information is relatively easy to obtain. There was a section that featured a “topic of the day” which, on the day I accessed this, focused on the 108 million obese Americans. The overview, the discussion, the references and bibliography were all relevant and geared to the reading public. I also noted that the URL changed to the NIH website, indicating that sites improve their coverage by linking imperceptibly to other sites.

For just about any information, try which is the massive health information site of the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. It has five major categories of information: 1) Health Topics: Information on conditions, diseases and wellness, plus a medical encyclopedia. 2) Drug Information on Brand and Generic drugs. 3) Dictionaries: Spellings and definitions of medical terms. 4) Directories: Locations and credentials of doctors, dentists and hospitals. 5) Other resources: Access to organizations, consumer health libraries, international sites, publications, MEDLINE and more. There are the usual problems in keeping lists current. I found colleagues who moved their practice elsewhere three years ago were still listed in Carmichael.

Some large localities have their own website that gives information related to their medical institutions as well as general health information. For New York City, try (New York Online Access to Health) with its emphasis on the NYCDOH (New York City Dept of Health), University Hospitals of Columbia and Cornell, the National Cancer Institute, the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, as well as a vast array of health topics found at the other healthcare sites.

Websites are constantly changing. The book suggests which takes you to where the former listing of medical terms becomes just one of many categories. For exercise-induced asthma, the doctor focused on the generic induction of wheezing in 90% of asthmatics and failed to mention the syndrome of quiescent asthma, triggered only or primarily by exercise.

If you’re searching for any hospital in the USA, will find it in seconds. If you’re more interested in quality of hospitals, the site of the “joint commission of accreditation of healthcare organizations” ( will give the current status. This site gives an up-to-date background of the accreditation process. My hospital recently changed its name from “hospital” to “medical center.” This change is shown on the site. I noted it was updated only three days earlier suggesting frequent updates.

The authors caution the reader that advertisers can influence the information or how it’s displayed. Be sure to look for the HONcode seal which signifies that the site adheres to the HONcode principles. Even so, there seems to be a significant emphasis on diets and “food fads.” One doctor’s column suggests we forget the diet and enjoy life. Which reminds me of a story told by a patient who is manager of a weight-reducing salon, “If we didn’t tell the patients who were ‘good’ and lost a lot of weight to treat themselves with a high calorie dessert for ‘being good,’ we’d work ourselves out of our business.”

The interspersed cartoons are hilarious. I liked the one where the explorer in the jungle is bitten by a poisonous snake. His partner is accessing the internet on his Palm Pilot. He tells the suffering man to, “Calm down. Sometimes it takes a long time to download an antidote.” In another one, the patient is obtaining a second opinion on her laptop before the consultation is even finished. 

The medical information on the internet is massive. This shouldn’t be surprising since almost all medical literature is now being digitized. Eventually, the internet will have all the information that one could find in a university medical bookstore, a medical library and the medical section at your local bookstore, the latter being frequently written by non-medical “experts.” Just as the bookstores and libraries would have many different authors’ Textbook of Medicine or Surgery or Pediatrics or Nutrition, the large medical website would duplicate the information found at another site but in a different form. A lay person would have difficulty perusing either and not know which book to buy or site to visit. With the internet, one can spend days perusing the equivalent of thousands of texts without purchasing any, although most ask you to register and join which may be a prelude to paid access. Healthcare Online is truly a revolutionary concept that equals the advent of the printing press which made information available to thousands. Now the internet can potentially make the same information easily available to billions. This compact volume helps us get through the maze.