Metaforix@Health: Keeping Up With Health Trends Online Through E-Letters

Lois C. Ambash is President and Chief Infomaven of Metaforix Incorporated, whose services include organizational assessment and planning activities, web site and e-letter content development, and design and delivery of customized workshops for healthcare, education, business, and community organizations. Lois holds a PhD in American Culture and Writing, Master’s degrees in Library/Information Science and Public Policy, and a Bachelor’s degree in English. She serves on the board of the Internet Healthcare Coalition and on URAC’s Health Web Site Accreditation Committee, and is a frequent writer and speaker on e-health, Internet research, business communications, and organizational culture. Read or subscribe to Lois’s blog,

Online healthcare issues and resources develop and change so quickly that it’s useful to have a strategy for keeping current. I’ve come to rely on an eclectic mix of e-letters to serve three purposes:

  • keeping up with health-related issues, events, policies, and trends
  • keeping up with health sites, including sites that were previously unfamiliar sites and changes in scope or access to sites I already know
  • with search tips and other “insider” information about online health resources previously unfamiliar to me.

    I’ve developed this month’s column by going through my (overstuffed) inbox and culling out some of the e-letters I rely on most to alert me to developing health stories and trends. In each case, I offer an example, or two or three, to illustrate how the e-letter contributes to my breadth of online health information. Rather than rank these resources in any way, I’ve listed them alphabetically, along with a description and information on how to subscribe.

    You’ll note that many of the resources are not about health, per se, but I find them essential nevertheless. Owing in part to my own budget limitations, most of these subscriptions are free, at least until their publishers make a decision to the contrary.

    American Press Institute Newsletters

    The American Press Institute (API) is “the oldest and largest center devoted solely to training and professional development for the news industry and journalism educators.” Regardless of whether writing is part of your job description, the API free e-letter link to wonderful collections of resources on a variety of topics in the news.

    The Journalist’s Toolbox / Roundtable Update features weekly additions to the online Journalist’s Toolbox, a collection of some “20,000 Web resources helpful to the media and anyone else doing research.” Over the past few months, updates have highlighted new resources on the flu epidemic; smoking trends in various states; mad cow disease; and SARS. Most of the updates link to the Journalist’s Toolbox Medical/Health Index, a portal for a variety of briefly annotated health and medical sources. A particularly interesting page is Medical/Health Fact-Checking Sites, which links to several sources that critique health and medical sites. (While I don’t vouch for all of the conclusions, the resources cited are useful benchmarks against which to compare your own criteria for online health information.) emphasizes interactive resources for journalists and focuses on “how the Internet, media convergence, and new technologies are changing journalism.” Its health-related features are less frequent, but more unusual. For example, a feature posted last November offered guide for journalists on how the HIPAA medical privacy regulations affect news coverage.

    Subscribe to either or both of these API e-letters here.

    Harris Interactive Health Care News

    Harris Interactive is “a worldwide market research and consulting firm, best known for The Harris Poll® and for its pioneering use of the Internet to conduct scientifically accurate market research.” This occasional free newsletter, delivered as a PDF e-mail attachment, covers “trends and up-to-date information” on healthcare trends and public policy issues, from both public and industry perspectives. Over the past several months, this e-letter has covered an address by Harris Poll chairman Humphrey Taylor on 11 health care debates that will be important over the next decade; a survey that explores why Americans are so upset about healthcare costs; a survey suggesting that changes in leisure activities are contributing to the obesity epidemic; and research on the impact of direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertisements on consumer behavior.

    Subscribe to Harris Interactive Health Care News by visiting this page.


    This free publication of the California HealthCare Foundation is a “daily digest reporting the Internet’s impact on health care.” Editors review and summarize key content from over 300 newspapers, journals, and trade publications covering five broad areas: Care Delivery, Access, Public Health & Research, Business & Finance, and Policy. Additional features include original columns on timely topics (example: Linking Patient Records: Protecting Privacy, Promoting Care), links to comprehensive reports produced by the California HealthCare Foundation and available as free PDF downloads (example: Disease Registries Offer Key to Improving Chronic Disease Care), and “Data Points,” or statistical snapshots of healthcare trends (example: Hospital Capital Projects Include Major IT Plans). The iHealthBeat site has fully searchable archives going back to the inception of the publication in November, 2001.

    Access to iHealthBeat requires a free subscription. California residents can also subscribe to “California Healthline, a daily digest covering California and national health policy and industry news,” at the same URL. If iHealthBeat is of interest to you, I recommend you try it out soon. Within the last couple of months, I’ve received a couple of surveys asking how much I would be willing to pay for access, so I have a feeling that this valuable resource may not remain free for long.

    Kaiser Family Foundation e-mail publications

    The Kaiser Family Foundation is a major research sponsor and prolific publisher in the healthcare arena, with a special emphasis on health policy. Numerous free e-mail alerts, updates, and digests keep you current on developments in special areas of interest (examples: HIV/AIDS, Medicare, Health Coverage and the Uninsured, and State Health Policy). Kaiser First Edition, delivered each weekday morning, provides “headlines and links to the day’s top news stories and events,” sometimes including free webcasts, such as a recent Conversation on Health with AARP CEO Bill Novelli. Kaiser Weekly alerts you to new reports, surveys, issue briefs, and other materials added to the site during the preceding week. Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report offers “news summaries of national, state, and local health policy news stories, containing links to original articles and related resources.”

    And those are just the ones I personally subscribe to. Visit the homepage of the Kaiser Family Foundation and click on the “E-Mail Alert Sign-Up” link in the left-hand navigation bar. You’ll be offered a plentiful array of free subscription options, as well as the opportunity to save links online, if you wish. The KFF site and its cousins,, and State Health Facts Online, are user-friendly, with attractive interfaces and sophisticated search functions.

    MIT’s Technology Review

    This e-letter is an offshoot of the magazine of the same name. The free Technology Review Update, delivered Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, offers “short synopses on the latest news to break on our Web site and in our magazine.” Among the topics with health-related content are “Biotechnology and Healthcare” (example: Your Daily Digital Doctor, on an internet-based diabetes monitoring system); “Government, Law and Policy,” “Nanotechnology and Materials” (example: Nanowires Spot DNA Mutation); and “Security and Defense” (example: Iris Identification: How the technology behind biometric security works).

    A frustrating aspect of this e-letter is that access is limited – both in scope and duration. (While writing this column, I was not able to access material posted in February, for example.) Full access to the online content requires a paid subscription to the print version of Technology Review, entitling you to unlimited access to including web-only editorial features, 6 years of Technology Review archives, weblogs, and research news.” Nevertheless, the free version is well worth your while.

    Pew Charitable Trusts e-Alerts

    The Pew Charitable Trusts “serve the public interest by providing information, policy solutions and support for civic life.” The Trusts support “fact-based research and practical solutions” in three main areas, all of which have health-related missions: public policy, non-partisan research and polling, and “supporting civic life” in the city of Philadelphia.

    Pew issues free “e-alerts” when content is added to the site in areas of interest, including alcohol marketing & youth; alcohol treatment policy; biomedical research and training; genetics and public policy (example: a link to a recent NPR Talk of the Nation segment on South Korean Embryos; medical malpractice (example: a Philadelphia Inquirer report on mediation, an “alternative remedy for malpractice suits”; society and the Internet (example: Internet Health Resources and how Americans use them; and tracking disease in America (example: a free PDF report from Governing magazine on “A Case of Neglect: Why Health Care Is Getting Worse Even though Medicine Is Getting Better”). The alerts, issued weekly, are sent to your inbox when any of your preferred topics have been updated.

    The Pew Internet and American Life reports are especially rich sources of both quantitative and qualitative data. The other resources range from good cues to emerging trends to in-depth policy analyses. Subscribe to those that interest you by visiting the Pew Charitable Trusts homepage and entering your e-mail address in left-hand navigation bar.

    Wall Street Journal Health Industry Edition e-Letter

    This daily e-letter, available only with a paid subscription to the Wall Street Journal Online, highlights news relating to the healthcare industry (including insurance and pharmaceuticals), healthcare trends, and health-related public policy. Its home page, part of the “Personal Journal,” features news articles, columns, stock quotes, and other current health and medical information. In addition, Mark Ingebretsen’s Daily Scan links to “important, provocative or amusing health-industry coverage” around the Internet.

    Wired News

    This daily e-letter is indispensable for insights into all aspects of digital culture. Most of the articles are brief, but many offer clues for further research on emerging stories and trends. You’ll find occasional links to complete articles from Wired Magazine, along with links to current articles on newspaper, magazine, and alternative websites. Within the past week or so, health-related coverage has included recent research on the placebo effect; a prototype exoskeleton “intended to help people like soldiers or firefighters carry heavy loads for long distances;” evidence that women’s supply of eggs is regenerated throughout the lifespan, research that could revolutionize infertility treatment; and Harvard University’s new stock of privately-funded stem cell lines.

    Wired News is available free by text or HTML e-mail, RSS feed, browser toolbar, or wireless handheld. Sign up here and take your pick.

    My suggestion is that you subscribe to two or three of these e-letters temporarily and see how you like them. Depending on the focus of your work, you may find some of them equally useful (or even more useful) for non-health-related topics.

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