Background: The Arthritis Foundation is a highly visible, mostly voluntary organization that advocates on behalf of the country's 43 million sufferers of joint pain, funding public education programs and research. The Web site advertises the foundation's activities and products, recruits members and provides general information.
What Works: The foundation does a responsible job of providing the basics on most joint-pain medications, including side effects and dosage information. Its drug index is comprehensive and, by and large, without noticeable bias--despite the fact that the foundation receives grant money from many drug makers. To its credit, the site includes profiles of doctors trying alternative therapies for joint pain, including acupuncture, massage and herbal tonics. The foundation's message boards and news coverage are welcome complements.
What Doesn't: The foundation's discussions of the disease are frustratingly shallow. The page on psoriatic arthritis, for instance, says the cause is not yet known and "it may be partly inherited and environment might play a role." No summary of the latest thinking about causes or detail about how environment might affect the condition. The site prefers to communicate in lists--of diagnostic tests, of symptoms, of treatments--without providing a sense of who should get which tests and treatments. It reads like a brochure, rather than a vital patient resource.
American College of Rheumatology
Background: The organization represents health professionals who diagnose and treat people with joint or skeletal problems, from nurses and physical therapists to rheumatologists. The site is meant to organize and inform practitioners as well as answer consumer concerns.
What Works: The "virtual press room" functions as an up-to-date news service. Recent articles explain how smoking, knee injuries, and even psychological factors can affect arthritis risk and levels of pain. The college posts extensive guidelines for doctors that describe many varieties of arthritis and how they're treated. And for those who want more information, the site has extensive links--to academic centers, to clinical trials sites and to Web pages devoted to specific forms of arthritis.
What Doesn't: Though there are about 100 forms of arthritis, according to the college, this site's "patient information" section discusses only a couple dozen in any detail. These general information pages resemble outlines more than real explanations. For instance, the site explains that therapy for osteoarthritis "includes both medication and other treatments that help to relieve pain and improve joint function," followed by a short list of treatments. The question is: Which therapy will work best for me, given my symptoms--and why?
And despite the fact that the college publishes the leading arthritis journal, there's no good overview of the basic questions arthritis researchers are trying to answer, and what those answers mean for patients.