8 Reliable Medical Websites (& How To Research Spine Treatment Options)

8 Reliable Medical Websites (& How To Research Spine Treatment Options)

If you’re like most people, you probably often use the Internet as a jumping-off point for questions about your health. You might also use it as a resource for decision-making, as you investigate possible treatment options to decide the best course of action. There’s a wealth of information online, much of which is trustworthy. But the sheer number of resources available—and the lack of a quality control process—sometimes makes it difficult to identify which websites are reputable for medical information and which are not.

For patients researching spine care treatments and procedures, there are several places to access good information online—we’ve listed the most reliable medical websites below. Keep in mind that, while researching on your own is an excellent place to start, it’s important also to discuss the information you’ve found with your doctor. An open discussion about the facts is the best way to gain the insights needed to make vital decisions about your future health.

The 8 Best Health Information Websites For Spine Care

Different sites are better for certain kinds of information. If you’re investigating possible treatment options, the best way to understand the realities of a procedure is by reading relevant articles in scientific publications. Research articles like the ones that appear in medical journals tell the story of a particular study that’s been done, including what the researchers set out to prove (the hypothesis), the methodology of the study, and the results.

Studies like these might seem complex and hard to understand—some parts are! But you can get valuable information from scientific studies if you know how to approach them. And it’s important to spend time looking at raw statistics, because seeing the facts for yourself helps you make more informed decisions. Conventional wisdom or popular schools of thought may sound reliable, but they don’t always hold true based on the facts. Similarly, websites that provide information without any references to studies or actual data may not be among the most reliable medical websites out there.

How To Find (& Read) Studies Related To Spine Treatments

To start, you first need to locate research studies online. Use the following two search engines to identify reliable health sites:

  • Google Scholar—this advanced Google search engine accesses scholarly literature on the Web.
  • PubMed—this free search engine comprises more than 29 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books.

From these sites, you can use search terms, just like you would in any other search engine, to find relevant scientific papers and studies.

Key Terms For Spinal Fusion Research

If you’re researching spinal fusion or alternatives to spinal fusion, we recommend searching the following terms on both Google Scholar and PubMed:

  • Lumbar spinal fusion
  • Outcomes from lumbar spinal fusion
  • Adjacent segment degeneration
  • Adjacent segment degeneration following spinal fusion
  • Anterior disc replacement
  • Decompression

There will likely be hundreds of thousands of results for these terms; to filter the number down we suggest limiting the results to studies published within the last five years.

Google Scholar search for lumbar spinal fusion

When you click on an article, you’re likely to see an abstract up top. This section provides a summary of the entire article. Ask yourself whether the scenario described in the abstract sounds similar to your own. If not, the study may not be relevant to your needs.

The abstract usually includes the following:

  • Objective or Purpose—This states what the researchers are trying to prove or disprove.
  • Outcome Measures—This outlines what the researchers are trying to measure, for instance, pain or disability.
  • Results—This presents the results of the study, and includes the actual facts and figures. The results either support or negate the thesis; sometimes they do neither. 
  • Conclusion—Usually this section puts the findings into context and may include some commentary about the implications of the study results.

Example of a medical article abstract

Beyond these sections, scientific studies may have several pages of discussion. This section is usually more difficult to understand, particularly due to the lingo that’s sometimes used. (For example, something could be “statistically significant but not clinically meaningful,” meaning that the data produced may be notable from a mathematical perspective but may not necessarily impact the health of patients studied, from the author’s perspective.)

Many studies are available to read in full, for free, online, and have these sections right at the beginning of the article. However, there are some studies where the full text is behind a paywall; usually in those cases, you can still read the sections above and get the numbers you need from the results section.

You’ll notice that the studies on the search results pages will appear in a variety of different journals. In the world of spine care, the three most important journals:

  • SPINE—recognized internationally as the leading journal in its field
  • The Spine Journal—the official journal of the North American Spine Society
  • Neurospine

Recommended Reading: Spine Studies

Zhong Z, Deviren V, Tay B, Burch S, Berven S. Adjacent segment disease after instrumented fusion for adult lumbar spondylolisthesis: Incidence and risk factors. Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery 156(2017);29-34.

Choi J, Jang J, Yoo K, Shin J, Jang I. Functional Limitations Due to Stiffness After Long-Level Spinal Instrumented Fusion Surgery to Correct Lumbar Degenerative Flat Back. SPINE 43(2018):1044-1051.

Pan A, Hai Y, Yang J, Zhou L, Chen X, Guo H. Adjacent segment degeneration after lumbar spinal fusion compared with motion-preservation procedures: a meta-analysis. European Spine Journal 25(2016):1522-1532.

Irmola T, Hakkinen A, Jarvenpaa S, Marttinen I, Vihtonen K, Neva M. Reoperation Rates Following Instrumented Lumbar Spine Fusion. SPINE 43(2018):297-301.

Other Reliable Health Websites

You may be past the investigation stage and have already decided on a particular procedure or treatment. In that case, other types of health information sites might be more useful. In contrast to scientific literature, the sites listed below focus on patient education. The information they provide won’t necessarily help you decide whether or not you should go a certain route, but they will give you a better idea of what happens during surgery, for example, and what you can expect in terms of recovery. Use these sites to get prepared before you go in for surgery:

  • Mayo Clinic—Mayo Clinic has ranked at or near the top of U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Hospitals Honor Roll” for as long as the rankings have existed. Its reputation as being patient-centered makes it unique among healthcare institutions; it also has a robust health education and research program. On Mayo’s Patient Care and Health Information portal you can look up any type of procedure and get excellent information you can trust.
  • Johns Hopkins—Johns Hopkins came in #3 on the above-mentioned honor roll; it also has a strong reputation for patient care and research. Its Health Information page allows you to easily search specific conditions or treatments.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)—Part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, NIH is the nation’s medical research agency. All NIH-funded research is accessible to the public via PubMed (see below). A keyword search in Google may yield numerous studies that came out of the NIH; it is widely considered a reliable medical source.

NIH study search result in Google

Aside from reputable journals, the best health information websites provide frequent references to scientific literature and contain current information; the authors of site content should also be readily identifiable medical professionals.

Literature searches and medical research can be overwhelming, but due diligence is critical to getting the right kind of care. Doing your homework and talking to your doctor about your findings will put you on the path to the treatment that’s right for you.

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