Still, there is accurate, science-backed health advice available if you know where to look. Finding the apps and sites that provide it can help keep you and your loved ones safe—whether that’s getting yourself up to speed on the latest developments with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, or understanding that nagging pain in your back.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The CDC has come under increased scrutiny since COVID-19 hit the US, but as the government agency tasked with protecting citizens’ health, it uses data from official, scientific sources, and is a voice you can trust.
Its COVID-19 hub offers useful advice on what to do if you think you might have the disease, how to minimize your risk of infection, and how to maintain your physical and mental health during the pandemic.
There’s a lot more to the CDC than coronavirus coverage, of course. Its website is full of useful information, but you can also download dedicated CDC apps for Android and iOS. Use its vast knowledge of public health to learn about numerous medical conditions and how they’re treated, the best ways to approach healthy living, how to stay safe when you’re traveling, and some of the other diseases and conditions the country is grappling with.
John Hopkins Health Library
The team at Johns Hopkins University has been working to keep people informed during the coronavirus pandemic, providing up-to-date statistics on the virus’ global spread in addition to all of its existing health advice resources.
There’s a wealth of information here, including what we know about COVID-19, how we can protect ourselves from the disease, and the latest scientific reporting as it’s published. Everything is laid out in a clear, jargon-free, and accessible way.
Apart from the coronavirus, the rest of the library offers a host of useful articles on diseases and conditions from cancer to tonsilitis. As one of the biggest health enterprises in the world (nonprofit, too), you should feel comfortable trusting everything you find on its site.
Tech firms are also helping disseminate accurate information about the current pandemic. You can find Google’s coronavirus information hub here, but the search engine will also display its collection of data above and around your search results if you go looking for anything about coronavirus or closely related topics. It includes details on COVID-19 symptoms, how to protect yourself, and available treatments.
In certain regions of the US, you can also get a map of, and directions to, local testing centers that have been approved by authorities—but check with those centers about availability before you head out.
Google’s hub also offers advice about how to properly wash your hands and socially distance yourself from other people, as well as links to the CDC and other US government resources. You can check up on the latest stats on the spread of the new coronavirus, too.
Apple doesn’t have a search portal like Google, but it is offering an online screening tool that you can use to figure out if you have symptoms of COVID-19. It’s a simple step-by-step process that doesn’t take long to complete, and when you’re done, the tool will advise you on what to do next.
The same page displays the latest health advice from your state authorities (use the drop-down menu to indicate where you are), and lets you look up information about symptoms, associated risks, and what you can do to keep yourself safe.
If you’ve got an iPhone or an iPad, you can also use Apple’s official COVID-19 app, which features much of the same information that’s available online. You can check your symptoms, find out best social distancing practices, and get up-to-date information on the spread of the disease.
Let’s get this out of the way first: We’re not saying you should trust everything you see on Facebook. There are a lot of people posting misinformation on the site every day, but the company itself has taken steps to try to ensure its users stay up to date on COVID-19.
As soon as you log into the site, you should see a link to the COVID-19 Information Center, or you can get at it directly via this link (if you choose to click Follow, you’ll see coronavirus updates appear alongside other posts in your news feed).
Facebook’s information center pulls together resources from a number of trusted and respected places, including government agencies, health organizations, and universities. The company has specifically said that one of its goals is to use the hub to fight misinformation and to make sure you’re getting reliable, accurate advice.
MedlinePlus has up-to-the-minute information about the new coronavirus, but it also goes way beyond that, providing resources on everything from broad topics (such as general wellness and prescription drugs) to more specific issues (like tick bites and pneumonia).
If you already have a known or suspected diagnosis, the articles on this site can be invaluable. It offers plenty of multimedia resources, too, such as helpful videos demonstrating the signs of certain conditions and how they affect the body, and online health-check tools.
What makes us trust MedlinePlus are the credible sources it uses: The National Library of Medicine (the largest medical library in the world) and the National Institutes of Health. That means all the facts on the site have been thoroughly checked.
When it comes to diagnosing an illness, nothing beats a visit to a qualified physician. But, if you want to know what certain symptoms might indicate, Family Doctor is a far better option than Dr. Google.
When you visit this site’s Symptom Checker, choose your general problem from a list and then answer a few yes-or-no questions about your specific experience. After that, you’ll receive an honest answer, written in a cautious and professional tone, along with a suggestion for how to treat your problem (which often directs you to consult a healthcare expert).
On top of that, the site presents a host of information on diseases and conditions, including causes, initial symptoms, and treatments. The site is backed by the philanthropic arm of the American Academy of Family Physicians, and doctors and professional writers produce its content under the guidance of a medical review panel.
Again, if any family member feels ill, your doctor is your best source of advice. But if that’s not an immediate option, the KidsDoc app ($2 for Android or iOS) is one of the best resources we’ve found for diagnosing children on your own.
When you download the app, you can use keywords to search for and identify symptoms and injuries. KidsDoc’s answers will quickly give you an idea of whether you should manage the condition at home or head straight to the emergency room. The clear layout, coherent advice, and illustrative pictures make it easy to understand what might be going on.
The KidsDoc app comes from the HealthyChildren.org website, which itself offers a wealth of information, from how to diagnose various conditions, to answers for a lot of common medical questions. All these resources are supported and developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with some 66,000 pediatricians.
The Drugs.com website and its Android and iOS apps describe more than 24,000 prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, and natural remedies. Look one up, and you’ll get an explanation about how it works, how much to take, and known side effects. That said, Drugs.com is not an online pharmacy and it can’t tell you what to take or provide prescriptions.
On top of general information, Drugs.com offers a few handy tools. A pill identifier lets you work out what that random medication in your bag might be, based on its imprint, shape, or color, and the Interactions Checker helps you spot the medications and food that might not play well together.
Despite its name, Drugs.com is not funded by pharmaceutical companies, just by clearly-marked advertising. This long-running, independent resource pulls its information from experts like the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, the Mayo Clinic, and Stedman’s Medical Dictionary.
The Ada apps for Android and iOS take a somewhat unusual approach to the diagnosis process, using artificial intelligence networks to spot patterns in your symptoms that you might otherwise overlook, drawing from its database of more than 1,500 medical conditions.
First, it will ask you a few simple questions, tailoring each question to what it already knows about you. Then it will list potential conditions—along with their symptoms and treatments—that could be ailing you. It provides clear, considered advice at the end, but (as always) Ada’s take is not an official diagnosis, so it should complement, rather than replace, your doctor.
The app is backed by an independent startup with the same name—not funded by advertising or sponsorship—and it’s been produced with help from more than 100 doctors and scientists. It’s also garnered positive reviews from users and the tech press.