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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12 Responses to “WebMD vs. MayoClinic.com – Reliable Medical Information”

  1. Health Information, Advice For Whole Family http://healthinformationworld.com

    For Health Tips offers you current health articles on a variety of health issues. Preventive medicine works! You and your family can enjoy a healthier life and save money by preventing health complications in the first place. The next best thing is to discover any conditions early, when they are easier to treat, and last but not least, to learn how to cope with any disease.

  2. For websites that provide online healthcare information, I do think that if they can flourish without sponsor advertising, people will trust in the information to a higher degree. A clean site without any type of advertising that provides content based on reliable sources would likely be ideal for people to learn about healthcare.

    Jose Engelmayer, PhD

  3. [...] WebMD vs. MayoClinic.com – Reliable Medical Information; by John W. Sharp, eHeatlh [...]

  4. Jack says:

    Mayo Clinic is not non-proift. It is part of Everyday Health’s portfolio. Talk about bad research by NYTimes.

  5. [...] a bogus assertion that runs counter to the online targeting that makes the Web so great (and, as John Sharp points out, this happens at MayoClinic.com as well). Both WebMD and Mayo have fair and transparent advertising [...]

  6. [...] WebMD vs. MayoClinic.com – Reliable Medical Information (eHealth John Sharp) – Very interesting take on medical information and commercial advertising. [...]

  7. [...] PR Czar, Adam Grossberg, Heffernan’s piece has received quite a bit of pushback. (Click here, here, and here to read more reactions to the piece.) Critics have noted that although the Mayo Clinic [...]

  8. [...] (I was in the process of posting this when I saw Maia Szalavitz’s take on the subject at Time.  John Sharp has also explored the issue.) [...]

  9. John Sharp says:

    Mayo Clinic vs. WebMD: Another Perspective – from Time Magazine http://healthland.time.com/2011/02/07/mayo-clinic-vs-webmd-another-perspective/

  10. John Sharp says:

    I was surprised that the NY Times did not do something more thorough on this topic. They could have noted, for instance, that most users go to Google to search for disease and treatment info. Google has partnered with ADAM for health content.
    I think the lesson for providers and health educators is to know what is on the major health information websites because your patients are reading them and will bring them to appointments. Perhaps providers, particularly specialist, should create their own blogs and comment on their opinions of content in their area of specialty, such as, a urologic oncologist commenting on articles about prostate cancer.

  11. Hi John. It’s true that in reading the article, WebMed appears crassly commercial versus a non-profit Mayo Clinic. So,to what do you attribute the article? Lack of thoroughness? A motive? Other? Regards from Denise

  12. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Sharp, Health Insurance, Aparna M K, Netspective Health, tnformatics ats and others. tnformatics ats said: WebMD vs. MayoClinic.com – Reliable Medical Information | eHealth http://bit.ly/hwQHDQ http://t.tatsn.com/l [...]

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