Of the growing number of Web sites targeting general health care consumers, the newest one comes from a company whose name is usually identified with planets, pets and planes.
Discovery Communications, which operates the popular cable TV channels, Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet and Travel Channel, as well as retail stores, is plunging into the health care arena with a new TV channel and related Web site.
The company unveiled its Web site earlier this month and will launch the Discovery Health Channel next month. If the TV version is anything like the Web site--http://www.discoveryhealth.com--there's reason for optimism.
The Discovery health site is bright and inviting and largely succeeds in its effort to provide a little something for everyone.
The site includes most of the requisite elements for a general-interest health site: health news (updated three times a day) and special sections for women's, men's, children's and senior health. It also includes an interactive feature that lets you assess your own health, a health database and reference resources that help you research subjects on your own. You can also join online chats with health care experts or become part of a disease- or therapy-based online community.
This standard information is solid and well-done. But the site goes a step further, with sections devoted to alternative medicine, mental health and workplace fitness.
Each section seems to offer more than you'd expect. For example, instead of just the standard information on prostate, heart and sexual health issues, the "His Health" section offers advice for new fathers, including articles on selecting a pediatrician, first aid and tips on how to bond with your infant.
"We offer people a unique blend of authority and personality," said Discovery Health Media President John Ford when the site launched. Ford also touts the site's online shopping features, where you can browse through hundreds of personal care and fitness products, ranging from "hot touch eyelash curlers" to air cleaners and purifiers.
Rather than create most of its content from scratch, Discovery instead teamed up with InteliHealth, a widely acclaimed Internet health company operated jointly by Johns Hopkins University Hospital and Health System and Aetna U.S. Healthcare. InteliHealth is licensing content to Discoveryhealth.com and creating original and exclusive content for the site.
Discoveryhealth.com also has a toolbox feature you won't find on most health sites. You can download software that lets you enhance other features of the site, such as an online crossword puzzle, a chocolate quiz and doctors' favorite hiccup treatments. The Chinese dinner calculator shocked me when I submitted my favorite menu selection. One wrapper of moo shu pork, a cup of tofu and veggies, and a cup of beef and broccoli added up to 1,012 calories, 50 grams of fat and a ton of sodium. Yikes!
"Reference Room" links you to the Merriam-Webster medical dictionary, Johns Hopkins physicians, medical journal databases, physician and hospital locater, a list of other health sites they deem reputable, and MedCite, a medical literature service.
"The Weight Center" weighs in with news, recipes, nutrition content, calorie counters and a timeline of milestones in weight-management history. Not that the timeline will help you lose weight, but you can find out some little-known tidbits: Amphetamines were first prescribed by doctors for weight loss in the 1950s.
Another feature, "The Cutting Edge," includes articles on the latest technologies, discoveries and research. You can also take a self-test on clinical depression.
I was skeptical about this, but the online test, called the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, has been used by mental health professionals since the 1970s to measure symptoms of depression. According to experts at the National Institute of Mental Health, this test is not comprehensive enough to be an accurate measure of clinical depression. But people who score high on the test for depression should definitely see a health professional--something that the site itself strongly recommends.
"My Discovery Health" allows you to register for a variety of e-mail services, including daily and weekly health news updates, and weekly e-mails on topics you select.
Discovery Health, taking a cue from the success of other partnerships between TV and the Internet, plans to closely tie together its TV and Web site programming. When the Discovery Health Channel launches, viewers can turn to the Web site for more in-depth information on subjects covered on TV. They can also get streaming video, which allows people with the right software to watch digitized programming on their computer.
The explosive nature of electronic commerce and advertising and the billions of dollars spent on health care have created an environment in which new health care Web sites appear regularly. Many of those--most notably, http://www.drkoop.com--target general consumers of health care and are vying to be the next Amazon.com. With its great branding and sister TV channel, Discoveryhealth.com may give rivals a run for their money.
Marla Bolotsky is managing editor and director of online information for the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. Cathy K. Purcell contributed to this article.
* Your Health Online runs every other Monday in Health.