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A Women's Place? On the Web

May 01, 2000|MARLA BOLOTSKY

Sounds simple enough. You're a woman who wants personal health information or a man who wants to learn more about a loved one's health condition. Just go to your favorite search engine and type in "women's health," right? Well, brace yourself. That method can turn up hundreds of thousands of sites. And, the reality is, you may never find the site that offers precisely the information you're seeking. But here are some noteworthy ones that provide high-quality, current women's health content. Try them on for size, and let me know if you've found others so I can spread the word.

* Perhaps one of the best-known--and certainly widely advertised--sites for women is iVillage.com (http://www.ivillage.com), "the women's network." It's a friendly, diverse portal for women's interests, with a health component called "allHealth.com"(http://www.allhealth.com). AllHealth.com posts daily health news of interest to women--and to you in particular if you want to personalize. You can delve into "interactivities" on body mass and bone density, and the video options range from instructional (how to kick-box) to inspirational (breast-cancer survivors speak out).

A virtual checkup promises a unique, high-tech experience, but the most advanced version was too much of a hassle. I settled for the relatively low-tech version.

You can also turn to all Health.com for a daily pollen count (sponsored by an allergy drug), "hot-topics" such as endometriosis and heartburn, plus polls (would you sell your ova?) and a pull-down list of information on various medical tests.

There's no shortage of advertising throughout allHealth.com--all seemingly tailored to women's needs. You can quickly purchase discounted sundries and cosmetics as well as link to fashion shopping online. And, since the links to iVillage.com's other services are at the bottom of the health pages, you can easily connect with other women and access other women-focused content, including a diet and fitness channel. Peeking in on some of the health message boards, I could tell these virtual communities have been a saving grace for many women facing trying health conditions and other stresses.

* The site of the National Women's Health Resource Center (http://www.healthywomen.org) is a more straightforward clearinghouse resource. Since my first visit here a year ago, it has undergone a significant make-over. You still get the sense of browsing a library card catalog as you click through content reviewed by medical experts in specific fields, but now this nonprofit group's site boasts the look and feel of other mainstream Web sites. In fact, I find it more aesthetically pleasing than many others.

Healthywomen.org offers a long list of conditions to explore, accessible from the home page. Need some depth on a subject or condition? Go to the health center before searching the site because you'll probably find it there. And don't forget the great links--to all kinds of women's health organizations and services, from local support groups to federal agencies. You can customize the site, but note that when you do, information specific to your interests is designed to appear first. When I customized, however, I found information only on my topics, not other general information, as I had expected. Advertising here takes the subtle form of sponsorship and educational grants, ranging from Johnson & Johnson to the Lilly Centre for Women's Health.

* Womancando.org (http://www.womancando.org) tells you how you can actually do something to improve women's health. The site is part of a new three-year public information campaign, "Some Things Only Women Can Do," which encourages women to participate in medical research. The campaign is supported by the Society for Women's Health Research (main site at http://www.

womens-health.org) and 95 other organizations, including hospitals and universities (from Allegheny General Hospital in New York to the YWCA).

Find out how disease affects women's bodies differently than men's, and why more research data is needed that is unique to women and their health needs. Whether you have a disease or condition that requires treatment or are in good health, this site urges you to play an important role in medical discovery. And if you're ready to do something, check out the things you should consider before volunteering for an observational study or a clinical trial. You'll even find a wealth of links to sites with contact information on studies or clinical trials by city and state. Womancando.org also has a handy list of medical research terms.

No high-tech features here, but I did learn that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and that more women die of lung cancer than any other cancer. It feels good to know that each woman can do something about it.

With the sheer number of women's health sites on the Internet, it's easy to get buried in information. But there are built-in limits to what we can access. We can't click on a cure for arthritis if there is none. We can't call up data on a treatment that works best for women if research focuses primarily on the male body.

But these sites are a good place to begin your search for information and to help improve the overall quality of women's health care.

*

Marla Bolotsky is managing editor and director of online information for the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. She can be reached at marla.bolotsky@latimes.com. Cathy K. Purcell contributed to this column.

* Your Health Online runs every other Monday.

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