Ruly Timesaver: Medical News Alerts

"U.S. Army medical researchers take part in World Malaria Day 2010, Kisumu, Kenya April 25, 2010." Photo by U.S. Army Africa. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

Staying on top of the latest medical news and research is becoming more important for the average person. There is so much information out there that your doctor can’t possibly know it all for every patient. If you have an uncommon condition, you are often your own best advocate for new therapies and can serve as a valuable research assistant for your doctor.

How does the average person with no formal medical training find time to learn about the latest research? Most of us get our information from the mainstream news. The news tends to highlight therapies that are huge breakthroughs or unusual, simple and/or humorous, such as the recent news that drinking large amounts of coffee can reduce men’s risk of lethal prostate cancer.

For most of us, the mainstream news is not going to cover all the health topics we might care about. Fortunately, there are two very simple tools that will help you stay up to date on relevant medical information without spending much time, delivered to your email inbox free of charge!

Tip No. 1: Medical News Today Alerts

Medical News Today is a wonderful news source for health information. Most of the articles are written with the general public in mind, summarizing studies published in the most recent medical and scientific journals from around the world. You can sign up to be alerted about news on a huge number of generalized topics (such as “pregnancy” or “allergies”). To sign up, just click one of the links below.

Tip No. 2: Google News Alerts

If you only want customized information on a specific disease or medication, a Google News alert can be helpful. Just type in your keyword(s) and Google will let you know when there is updated content on the web matching those terms. In my own experience, however, these keyword-specific searches have been less effective than the generalized category searches on Medical News Today. I suspect this has to do in part with how Google rates websites and processes search results. However, Google News Alerts has provided some very valuable information in the past. To sign up, just click below, type in your keywords, your e-mail address and select how often you want to bealerted.

Tip No. 3: RSS feed

If you follow blogs/RSS feeds in Google Reader, an interesting feed I recently discovered is the news feed. Like Medical News Today, it gives quick, easy-to-read updates on the latest medical research. The topics covered, however, are varied and you can’t limit them to only the subjects you are interested in. Still, if you are a health news junkie, it is another good source of information.

Tip No. 4: What to do with all this information?

When you find a good article related to your health, print it out and save it in the appropriate tab of your personal health binder to discuss with your doctor.

If you have never signed up for medical news alerts before, you are probably in for a surprise about how much medical research is going on all the time! You may receive an update every single day on your search criteria. Sometimes you might get excited because some simple technique (taking a vitamin, taking an over-the-counter medication, eating more of a certain food, etc.) has been shown to improve your condition. If you continue reading the updates for a few months, however, you will probably find other studies that directly contradict the first studies. You may think, “What is the point of reading all this research when the information is so confusing?”

Rather than getting upset when you have contradicting information, it is better to just think of all this research as a work in progress. One researcher’s idea has to be tested by others before it is generally accepted and sometimes the testing reveals additional information. Over time, the research will build into some certain recommendations that doctors will end up prescribing for their patients.

The point for you is simply that you have advance knowledge of what the possible options are. It is empowering to have this knowledge and comforting to know that doctors and scientists are actively searching for treatments and cures. If there is something simple you can try now (like exercising, sleeping more, etc.), that research shows may help your condition, you can conduct your own research on yourself and report the results to your doctor. When it comes to drug or vitamin therapies, it is great to take your research information to your doctor at your scheduled visit and say, “Would this therapy work for me?” If nothing else, you will learn something new about your condition and health.

Do you follow medical news? What are your favorite sources? Please share in the comments.