Magazine article Information Today

Asthma Information on the Web, Part II

Magazine article Information Today

Asthma Information on the Web, Part II

Article excerpt

Stephen E. Smith is vice president of knowledge applications and design for Medscape (, a professional medical information resource. His e-mail address is

With asthma incidence on the rise, professional resources are important

A search for "asthma" on any Web search engine yields a multitude of hits. Unfortunately, only a minority of them are appropriate or helpful for the health professional. Professional resources do exist, but finding them can be difficult since search engines can't tell the difference between a professional

and consumer site, and medical hotlists are overwhelmed. Even the better hotlists are weighed down with sites that deal with allergies or immunology in general, and with links to resources with few offerings, or, most commonly, with offerings intended for the health consumer. Most of the professional-level resources comprise collections of medical journal and news articles. A few add some original and unique content to their offerings. In my May IT column, I reviewed three valuable resources. This month, Twill finish up my look at professional asthma resources online.

PharmInfoNet's Asthma Information Center

The PharmlnfoNet site (, maintained by the Pharmaceutical Information Network and owned by Mediconsult, hosts a series of disease-specific resources, including an Asthma Information Center. You can get to it by selecting the "Asthma" link from the disease information section on the home page.

PharmInfoNet's asthma collection consists of 30 or more documents from various publications. The focus of the site is the pharmacologic therapy of asthma, but the site is not restricted to drug therapy. It can serve as a helpful source of updates for the clinician because several of the resources consist of collected, abstracted, and summarized information from the current literature and professional meetings.

The content is divided into five sections, three of which are of the highest value to this audience: Articles, Research News from Medical Meetings, and Drugs Used in the Treatment of Asthma.

The articles section contains a lengthy archive of news, reviews, and updates on asthma and drug therapy. The articles come almost exclusively from the Pharmacy Information Network publications, Medical Sciences Bulletin, Med-Brief, Med Watch News, and PNN Pharmacotherapy Line. Together these sources offer discussions of asthma management, including drug therapy and related issues (e.g., there are articles on the roles of magnesium and vitamin C in asthma, GERD and asthma, etc.), reviews and discussions of findings from the literature, reviews and synopses of current items in professional communications (scanned sources include pertinent journals, FDA releases, and communications from pharmaceutical companies), and notices from the FDA's MedWatch adverse events and drug interactions reporting program.

The Research News section now looks a little dated, with the last posting from June 1998, but much of the content is still valuable.

One of the strengths of PharmlnfoNet's content is its extensive cross-referencing. This shows up especially well in the Drugs Used in the Treatment of Asthma section. These pages offer dosing and usage information on the drugs commonly used to treat the disease. Each drug document is also thoroughly linked to the various articles, reviews, practice guidelines, and news stories that discuss its uses. The listing of drugs with information offered is fairly complete.

PharmInfoNet serves best as a resource for clinicians who want to find current information regarding the use of and news related to particular drugs. The news and background articles are good for keeping up with current items of interest, but they won't be deep enough for the physician who is already expert in asthma care. Some of the lists can be difficult to evaluate for timeliness because they are listed alphabetically, and many entries are not dated in the list (though all are in the documents), so it can be difficult to find the "new" material. …

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