What resources will fill in for the CHN when it no longer exists?
Let’s consider our options…
- The US NIH, via MedlinePlus (not Canadian, necessarily US-biased…which makes little difference in some areas and a whole lot in others, like pharmaceuticals)
- Provincial Health Portals/Guides (Typically not in-depth and underutilised)
- There is that new Canadian government consumer health website, Healthy Canadians (unfortunately, it only covers the 6 topics the current government wants you to be thinking about)
- Hospital or Clinic websites (How many of these are still non-profit and impartial, particularly if they are US institutions?)
- For-profit medical websites such as WebMD and WrongDiagnosis.com (Supported by advertising…need I say more?)
The CHN is big, well-used, and non-commercial. These are non-trivial attributes in an information source.
Interestingly, at the same time as the primary, premier source for Canadian consumer health information is being defunded, another source of health “information” is proliferating – one that I wager will ultimately cost Canadians far more than the piddly price of a few librarians, nurses, and IT folk who appear to make the CHN happen. This flourishing source is, of course, pharmaceutical industry advertisements.
Is it merely coincidence that there are more public “reminder ads” (the kind that are legal here in Canada – you can get away with much more in this arena in the USA and NZ) around my city this fall than I’ve seen since moving here? Bus shelters encourage us to have warm fuzzies about Celebrex (a Vioxx-like drug), subway ads ask us if we’ve had a HPV vaccine, among others.
There is currently a battle going on in this country over how far drug advertising should be allowed to go, and the pro-ad argument tends to fall back upon the unproven notion that pharmaceutical advertising is somehow educational to patients in a way that can improve health outcomes, not just teach then to ask for drugs. While I like a good conspiracy theory as much as the next lefty, I’m not suggesting that the rise in drug advertising has been deviously crafted to fill the void we will feel when we no longer have a national health website on which to look up arthritis or human papilloma virus. I am however, quite concerned over the trend here.
When a pro-privatization government cuts national funding to social infrastructure and, at the same time, turns a blind (or at least feeble) eye to corporate challenges to public health and social policy regulations…well, I guess that’s where all that information literacy training we librarians are always pushing comes in. Because health information with a profit-motive is clearly not in the public interest. But without a not-for-profit health education, will we recognize it when we see it?
Resource list inspired by:
Evans, M. (2007, November 13). Searching for sound medial advice online. Globe and Mail. Retrieved November 19, 2007 from: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20071113.wevans13/BNStory/specialScienceandHealth/home.