When Illness Strikes: How to Get the Best Medical Care

We can now research our illnesses like never before. But whom do you trust, and where do you stop? Two women, one a cancer patient who took charge of her own drug research, the other a scientist who faced her own health crisis, show how they found their way

By Laurence Gonzales
She rented a vacant shop in the mall and turned it into an art studio. We walked over from the ceramics shop, and she showed me her work — large, impressive pieces with dramatic designs. There were mirrors, tables, and bowls decorated with tile fragments and often with words, such as "lucky," "hope" and "happiness" hidden in the designs. She locked up her studio, and we walked to lunch along the tree-lined, sunlit lanes. I asked her what her artwork meant to her. Although it was clearly marketable, she said she didn’t want to sell it in galleries. "I think I like it because it tells so much about my story," she said. "Or anyone’s life, for that matter. Life smashes things to bits, and you put it back together and make something beautiful with the pieces." Healthcare Data on Demand?Researching an illness and evaluating your choices can be an overwhelming task. The Cochrane Collaboration, an international nonprofit organization, is reviewing all available medical evidence and working to make that information available to the consumer. What is it? More than 11,000 contributors worldwide — healthcare professionals, researchers, consumer volunteers, and others — comb through medical literature as far back as World War II in more than 50 subject areas ranging from lung cancer to strokes to palliative care. The data is then analyzed to see which treatments are truly effective. More than 2,000 studies are complete (with more in the works), and will be updated as new evidence accumulates. Who can use it: Abstracts are available free online, but to view the full reports, individuals must pay $265 a year for a Cochrane Library subscription (single report views start at $25). Citizens of several countries, including England and Australia, can use the database without charge because their governments subscribe. Most academic medical institutions in America subscribe; the state of Wyoming has purchased a subscription for its residents. Where to find it: Online, www.cochrane.org.

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