Each year, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences presents Webby awards to sites considered most useful and innovative. The health winners, announced recently, address many issues of special interest to women:
Planned Parenthood Golden Gate
Background: Planned Parenthood, a voluntary family-planning organization, has affiliates throughout the country, each of which tailors its services to the local community. The San Francisco chapter's Web site is meant to reach out to consumers, educating them about sexuality, birth control and the group's services, and letting them make appointments. Winner: Best Health Web Site .
What Works: This site is high-impact--providing immediate help to people who are worried, who are in trouble, who are trying to decide what to do next. The medical information pages quickly hit the essentials about abortion, prenatal care, HIV testing, menopause, vasectomy and Planned Parenthood's services. These briefs are detailed and practical.
About emergency contraception (sometimes known as the morning-after pill) the site says, in bold type: "You must use only one type of pill and use it for both doses. The second dose is taken 12 hours after the first dose." Below the text is a chart listing brands of the pill, and how many to take.
The pages on sexually transmitted disease are just as sharp and useful and cover everything from herpes to HIV to chlamydia to hepatitis B. The site also has a special teen feature, which includes a self-test on sex.
What Doesn't: The site does little to help people figure out their risks of contracting a sexually transmitted disease depending on who they are, whom they're having sex with and what method of birth control they're using. STD researchers don't have hard and fast answers to these questions either, but they can make rough estimates of, say, how likely you are to get herpes by sleeping with someone who's infected but in remission (about 10% over a year, on average). The same kinds of estimates are available for many STDs, and often depend on whether you're male or female and what kind of sex you're having. Yet there is no detailed accounting of these risks on the site. Earlier this month, the National Institutes of Health released a report questioning the usefulness of condoms in preventing many STDs, including herpes and genital warts. Both of these infections can affect fertility, and the question of whether a condom helps prevent them is an important one for many potential Planned Parenthood visitors. But as of late July, there was no mention of this on http://ppgg.org.
Background: Founded in 1996 by America Online and Time Inc., Thrive is a health and lifestyle magazine that is now a part of Oxygen Media. Backers include Oprah Winfrey and some Hollywood TV producers. Winner: People's Voice Award.
What Works: The site covers the sweep of women's health, from breast and ovarian cancer to weight loss, meditation and yoga, managing to be open-minded and skeptical at the same time. Its alternative medicine section, for instance, explains and discusses 32 techniques, and doesn't hesitate to skewer the sillier ones. Of "cell therapy," the site says: "The trouble is, there's just no convincing evidence that any of this stuff works." Thrive's pages of traditional medicine are just as readable, and studded with links to other sites, chat rooms and news stories. The site even includes a careful explanation of health insurance, covering the pros and cons of HMOs, PPOs and indemnity coverage, among other things.
What Doesn't: After all that hard thinking about alternative and traditional medicine, Thrive goes a little dreamy in its "Serenity" feature, which is a murky pool of pop-psych suggestion, self-quizzes and common sense. It is not clear where all these tests and assessments come from, what exactly they measure and whom they're for. But this site seems determined to fill visitors' lives with New Age rituals. Under "Letting Go," you are advised to procure a candle, and then, "during a waning moon