Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Oh, What a Tangled Web

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Oh, What a Tangled Web

Article excerpt

BY one estimate, there are now some 15,000 medical sites offering health care information or services on the world wide web (American Medical News, 11/8/99). According to a recent Harris poll (8/5/99), between June 1998 and June 1999 some 70 million Americans went online for health information. Anyone with access to a computer and a modem can order prescription drugs, gather information on specific health problems, or discuss health-related concerns with other web-users. Sites like 4healthylife.com and Statchart.com enable patients to store their medical records online (American Medical News, 11/8/99). Surgery.com lists information about all surgeons in the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at no cost to the physician and also accepts advertising from physicians (American Medical News, 10/4/99). And as more and more physicians like California pediatrician Alan Greene launch web sites for their practices, the prospects for virtual doctor-patient relationships expand (American Medical News, 10/4/99, JAMA, 10/21/98).

And oh yes, there's money to be made. Internet medical records alone are expected to generate revenues of as much as $3 billion a year as the market for such services matures (American Medical News, 11/8/99). And one surgeon advertising at Surgery.com reported "booking $50,000 to $70,000 a month" from the listing (American Medical News, 10/4/99).

Not surprisingly, then, the ethics of the web are drawing increasing attention. Last year several prominent stories fueled interest in developing ethical guidelines for health-related web sites: Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois initiated legal action against Internet prescription sites; the New York Times revealed that no less trusted a figure than C. Everett Koop did not disclose that he profited from sales of products sold on the web site bearing his name (drkoop. …

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