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by Ray Carlson

Q. My spouse appears to have developed a serious medical condition. I want to learn more the condition and particularly whether new research is identifying effective treatments. Can I get that information on-line?

A. There are some excellent websites that present new medical research, but, since most illnesses are complex, it is usually helpful to start with those that present basic information. Websites like WebMd and Mayo Clinic and are examples. In addition to basic background, these sites describe some of the new research on common medical conditions.

A few other sites offer brief summaries of new research. Examples are ScienceDaily and DailyRx which offer summaries written for the general public rather than medical experts. Another site that addresses conditions more common among older adults is American Health Assistance Foundation. The government also offers sites describing recent medical research such as National Institutes of Health.

In reviewing these sites, we should suggest that the reader avoid relying excessively on any one research study or summary. The complexity of most illnesses leads to one study providing certain conclusions while another that involved different people or procedures can result in somewhat contradictory results. As a result, it is helpful to look for patterns between several studies and to look for interpretations of the results from people knowledgeable about the topic. In the long run, the benefit of reviewing such information is to develop a better grasp of what otherwise feels like a complex monster. A full understanding of such research normally requires years of preparation, but a modest understanding can lead to feeling prepared to ask appropriate questions and better interpret the information provided by medical professionals.

Preparing this response has led to some interesting discussions. As a result, the Prescott Computer Society will devote the last part of its meeting next Saturday to providing more detail and encouraging questions and comments from those in attendance. That meeting will be at the Prescott Library from 1 to 3 PM.

Published: Courier 4/15/12 - Page 5C