New York Times Magazine columnist Virginia Heffernan has posted a take on the quality of online health information, framed as a side-by-side review of WebMD and MayoClinic.com. Her characterization of for-profit WebMD as a “hypochondria time suck” has garnered the most attention so far, but it seems almost tame compared to her attacks on the site’s ties to big pharma and her exhortation that users actively block that particular address from their web browsers.
As an example, after praising the Mayo Clinic’s restrained approach to patients looking to self-diagnose a headache (it waits until page eight to suggest OTC painkillers), Heffernan flips to WebMD and describes the site’s approach:
… if you plug “headache” and “WebMD” into Google, the Web opens to the glamorous, photo-dominated “Migraines and Headaches Health Center,” a sound-and-light show that seems itself like a headache trigger. There’s the requisite picture of a tastefully made-up young woman holding her head in exquisite agony. The headache “news,” flush right on the page, comes with more artful photos of lovely people in pain and includes scare headlines like “Headaches: When Is It an Emergency?” The first page contains no hard facts — you have to click and thereby drive up the site’s lucrative click-throughs — but instead quickly transforms visitors from Web users with headaches to hard-core migraineurs and drug consumers.
- Mayo Clinic vs. WebMD: Another Perspective; by Maia Szalavitz, Time.com
- WebMD vs. MayoClinic.com – Reliable Medical Information; by John W. Sharp, eHeatlh
- Only About.com WebMD and Mayo Clinic?, by Markus A. Dahlem, SciLogs Gray Matters
- NYT piece pits editorial/advertising practices of WebMD vs. MayoClinic.com, by Gary Schwitzer, HealthNewsReview.org
- Mayo Clinic v. WebMD: Have standards suddenly changed?, by Chris Seper, MedCity News
- WebMD: the 800 Pound Gorilla in the Room,by Larry Husten, CardioBrief