WebMD vs. MayoClinic.com – Reliable Medical Information

February 6, 2011

In an article in the New York Times Magazine today, Virginia Heffernen discusses a Prescription of Fear. She contrasts the WebMD approach to health information with that of MayoClinic.com, opposing what she sees at a for-profit website with major funding from drug companies on the one hand with a respected non-profit medical institution on the other.  In comparing the two sites on the topic of headache, for one thing, she uses a Google search to find content on the sites rather than the sites own search engine and then claims that one has advertising and drives uses to prescription usage while the other does not.

I tested this with the term Fibromyalgia. It turns out that both sites display an add from Pfizer on the landing page, MayoClinic also has ads by Google but WebMD did not. WebMD on its chapter on treatment includes 3 brand name drugs but also recommends physical therapy and medical marijuana.  MayoClinic recommends lifestyle and home remedies, alternative medicine and coping and support but nothing about drug therapy.

MayoClinic advertising policy states that  “we accept advertising and sponsorship under strict guidelines” but does not state whether they have any control over the Google ads appearing on their pages. WebMD’s policy is extensive and states “under no circumstances will WebMD’s acceptance of any Advertisement be considered an endorsement of the product(s) and/or service(s).” Both sites are HON Code certified and WebMD also has eTrust and URAC shields.

So there may be something to WebMD suggesting drug treatment more often that MayoClinic, but the article fails to mention that MayoClinic.com is supported by advertising and in some cases has more ads per page than WebMD.

It should be noted that other medical institutions do not use advertising but provide reliable medical information from their own sources such as, Duke and Cleveland Clinic .

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