Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine featured a column, “Prescription for Fear,” that in one fell swoop dismissed WebMD as a “Big Pharma Shilling” website whose name has become a “byword among laysurfers for ‘hypochondria time suck,’” while praising the Mayo Clinic’s website as an heroic alternative, thanks to its “good medicine” and “good ideas.” The author, Virginia Heffernan, paints the “medical Web” as a landscape rife with pharmaceutical reps posing as medical experts, and posts written specifically to prey on the desperation of headache-sufferers and neurotic hypochondriacs.
But not everyone sees it this way. TIME‘s Maia Szalavitz, for one, isn’t convinced: “The NYT Magazine story says that WebMD frames its health information commercially, its pages designed largely to increase user traffic and ad sales. That’s clearly true from a glance at the site. But is there a for-profit media organization that isn’t trying to do that?” She poses some interesting questions, reminding us that, while WebMD is, ultimately a business, it doesn’t mean that the information in its articles is invalid.
Blisstree staffers have done their fair share of hypochondriac Google searching, and we’ve clicked through our fair share of worst-scenario galleries on – yes – WebMD. But miraculously, and despite our darkest moments of paranoid self-diagnosis, we’re not jacked up on prescription meds, and we manage to keep our doctor’s visits within the scope of our health insurance limits. We take WebMD’s medical information with a grain of salt, but then, we don’t hurry over to the Mayo Clinic without hesitation, either.
Heffernan paints a picture of readers “careering around the Web doing symptom searches,” seemingly without their own filters and lack of better judgment; we think (or at least hope) that our health-concerned readers exercise their own critical thinking, regardless of which website they’re on. And of course, we hope that if you’re concerned enough to spend hours of your time searching for medical advice online; you’re also savvy enough to see a doctor or two for some personalized, professional help.
So who do you turn to for diagnosis online? Take our poll:
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