Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Health Information on Government Bulletin Board Systems

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Health Information on Government Bulletin Board Systems

Article excerpt

Issues surrounding health and health care seem to be constantly at the top of the news these days. We hear about the results of the latest medical research, new medicines and treatments for various diseases, and also the ongoing debate over national health care. There is a great deal of interest in these topics and sometimes the public expresses an urgent need for the latest information. Many online sources of information on health and medical topics, services for health professionals, and others intended for consumers are available, as are commercial services and bulletin board systems. There are also various sources on the Internet. This month I have selected three bulletin board systems sponsored by government agencies and have examined the information contained on them.

NIH Consensus Program Clearinghouse

The first BBS I checked is the board for the NIH Consensus Program Clearinghouse sponsored by the National Institutes of Health's Office of Medical Applications of Research. OMAR, as the office is called, coordinates the NIH Consensus Development Conference program, which brings non-federal panels of experts together to evaluate scientific information on biomedical technologies in order to produce a consensus statement for use by health professionals and the public.

These statements are now available electronically through the BBS. They are also available through a 24-hour voice mail service or via fax. The board runs under TBBS software and supports ANSI color graphics for users whose computers have these capabilities. New users are asked to complete a brief questionnaire before the main menu is displayed. Figure 1 shows the main menu without ANSI graphics.


Since the purpose of this board is to make the consensus statements readily available, I decided to start with option 3 on the main menu. Choosing this option brings up a search menu with options for searching only the abstracts or the documents themselves. Searches may be based on text, date, or topic. Statements retrieved may be viewed online or be downloaded either as ASCII text or as WordPerfect documents.

Despite the fact that the board had been online for only three months when I accessed it, I thought the retrieval process for the CDC statements worked quite smoothly. I had no problems retrieving statements, and the mechanics of marking them for download and then the subsequent downloading process went without a hitch. I contacted the sysop for additional information through the e-mail function, and he informed me that only current statements can be downloaded from the BBS with new CDCs added as they are completed. A list of conference and workshop/schedules will be posted online, and technical workshop reports may also be added soon. He hopes that the BBS will be an important part of the Consensus Program Clearinghouse.


The next board I selected is sponsored by the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Public Affairs. This board is what I would describe as a "barebones" system without color or graphics support. The emphasis is on dissemination of information, and the information is extensive and quite current. On the day I accessed the BBS, my local newspaper had an article on a drug that had just been granted FDA approval. I found the FDA news release on the board had more detailed information than the newspaper article.

The top menu for the board is shown in Figure 2 and is displayed by typing TOPICS at the prompt. Although a new user might be able to get around on the system by using the help command and through some trial and error, it is easier to start by reading the online manual that is the last option on the Topics menu. This users' guide provides information on the system commands; describes the information in each topic, how often it is updated, and how long it is retained on the system; and provides telephone contacts. System commands permit the information in each topic to be scanned, read, or searched. …

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