Somehow or other, I have got on the mailing list for WebMD, the medical information site that is often the first one that is returned by search engines when you look for information on anything health related. I get emails from them regularly and on the surface, it has all the signs of being a reliable objective source of authoritative health-related information.
But that look can be deceiving. Virginia Heffernan wrote back in 2011 that the site is actually a shill for Big Pharma and mixes in all kinds of promotions along with actual useful information
She recommends that if you have some symptoms that you are concerned about, it is better to go to the site run by the Mayo Clinic that dispenses much more reliable information, that has “No hysteria. No drug peddling. Good medicine. Good ideas.”
In more whistle-blowing quarters, WebMD is synonymous with Big Pharma Shilling. A February 2010 investigation into WebMD’s relationship with drug maker Eli Lilly by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa confirmed the suspicions of longtime WebMD users. With the site’s (admitted) connections to pharmaceutical and other companies, WebMD has become permeated with pseudomedicine and subtle misinformation.
Because of the way WebMD frames health information commercially, using the meretricious voice of a pharmaceutical rep, I now recommend that anyone except advertising executives whose job entails monitoring product placement actually block WebMD. It’s not only a waste of time, but it’s also a disorder in and of itself — one that preys on the fear and vulnerability of its users to sell them half-truths and, eventually, pills.
But if careering around the Web doing symptom searches is your bag (and, come on, we’ve all been there), there’s still MayoClinic.com. Where WebMD is a corporation that started as an ad-supported health-alarmism site with revenues of $504 million in 2010, the Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit medical-practice-and-research group that started as a clinic.