Made-in-Alberta consumer health websites

Dr. Gadget

July 13, 2017

Dr. Wesley D. Jackson, Dr. Gadget

Contributed by: Wesley D. Jackson, MD, CCFP, FCFP

An April 2017 Google search showed that WebMD is the most popular consumer health website, with an estimated 80 million unique visitors each month. This is not surprising as this excellent, well-marketed USA based website includes a symptom checker, top stories, a message board, news and health tips relevant to many Americans. It also features information and articles from experts on medication, common medical conditions, healthy living, family and pregnancy. Unfortunately, a significant amount of the information may not apply to Canadians in general or Albertans in particular.

Alberta alternatives emphasize local conditions and resources

Fortunately, several less well-known but equally excellent websites are available specifically for Albertans. MyHealth Alberta (myhealth.alberta.ca), developed by the Government of Alberta and Alberta Health Services (AHS), provides all the WebMD features with an emphasis on Albertans and local conditions and resources. It also includes patient handouts, a large video library, a list of AHS advisories, current wait times in hospitals and urgent care centres, travel health advisories, information about tests and treatments, and a health care locator.

The site is maintained by health care experts across the province and it is adding new information regularly. It will also soon house a patient-managed personal health record, which will have the ability to track height, weight, allergies and medical conditions, and the ability to retrieve personalized information from the pharmacy network to more effectively track medications. These features and others make this website an excellent recommendation to our patients.

Health sites fill education gaps for parents

No matter how well educated we think we are, almost all of us feel overwhelmed when our first child graces our home. This insecurity results in many visits to health care providers in an effort to understand the complex psychological, social and physical effects introduced by that noisy, smelly and wonderful bundle of joy. Healthy Parents Healthy Children (healthyparentshealthychildren.ca) is a well-designed website which includes decision-making tools around pregnancy, labor and delivery; clinical calculators; and summaries of information on parenting, immunization, feeding babies and small children, family health, common childhood health concerns, safe infant sleep and developmental milestones. Webisode and video topics include connecting with baby, learning to be a parent, when baby can’t stop crying, safe sleep for baby, the power of play, returning to work and breastfeeding, nutrition, tobacco-free pregnancy, immunization and healthy pregnancy weight gain. This website was developed and is continually updated by AHS to fill the educational gap. It is an excellent resource to recommend to new and seasoned parents.

Childhood immunization has been the center of controversy for many Albertans for several years, generating many questions for parents which can result in sometimes prolonged visits to their health care providers. Immunize Alberta (immunizealberta.ca) contains the current immunization schedule, vaccine information sheets and detailed answers to common questions such as the difference between native immunity and vaccine immunity or the persistent but unfounded rumors of a possible link between vaccines and autism. The website, which was developed by AHS based on insight and feedback gathered from Alberta parents, states: “Whether it's a simple question about the childhood immunization schedule or what to expect after your child gets immunized, uncertainty about the real risk of diseases, or concerns about immunization safety: immunizealberta.ca has the info you need.” Links to Immunize Canada (immunize.ca) and the excellent app associated with that website are also provided. Those who use the app (available on iOS and Android) will find an outbreak tracker as a new feature, along with other tools.

These excellent local resources do not come up as the first choice in a typical Google search, and they may not even make the top 10, yet they provide valuable context-based information for Albertans. As physicians, we need to make our patients aware of the excellent local resources and tools available to them.

The Alberta Medical Association stands as an advocate for its physician members, providing leadership & support for their role in the provision of quality health care.