Magazine article Information Today

Is the Doctor Online?

Magazine article Information Today

Is the Doctor Online?

Article excerpt

Concerned about your aging father's blood pressure? Afraid your heart palpitations and breathlessness might be something more ominous than a panic attack? If only your doctor were available through your Internet connection, which can link you to nonessential places-like Siberia-in seconds.

For a fortunate minority in this country, their physicians are only an e-mail message away. And for those whose chronic conditions or immobility warrant it, technology is enabling doctors to monitor their every heartbeat as they go about their daily activities. Worldwide, even in the most remote locations, doctors are beaming (from sensors that are connected to patients) images and signals to medical experts at distant centers for realtime consultations, diagnoses, and monitoring. They are also plugging into sophisticated databases and decision-support systems.

Doctor-to-doctor telemedicine is progressing faster than patient-todoctor online communications. Patients themselves, however, are way ahead in taking personal responsibility for their health and even in suggesting approaches to their sometimes not-too-receptive physicians.

Nation of Cyberchondriacs

Americans of all ages are using the Internet to search for health information. There is a lot of it online-more than 20,000 health sites, according to some estimates. Recent surveys tell us the following:

* The Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that 62 percent of Americans have gone online for health information. Each day, 6 million Americans are seeking medical advice on the Net.

* According to Harris Interactive, 80 percent of American Internet users (approximately 110 million people) searched for health information online in 2002. There are an increasing number of "cyberchondriacs" who go online an average of three times a month to search for health information. By this definition, 82 percent of all Americans between 18 and 29 are cyberchondriacs.

* The Internet has become an important health resource for young folks. Three-quarters of American Internet users age 15 to 24 use it for that purpose, according to a 2001 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

* Pew reports that the Internet played a "crucial or important role" in healthcare decisions for one-quarter of the families that are dealing with a serious illness.

Information Therapy

Interest in online medical information has spawned an entire industry. Sites originally designed for physicians are being adapted for consumer use as well. The following are some professional services that have consumer-oriented sections, some with links to more advanced physician materials:

* (http://www.uptodate .com), a site started by doctors affiliated with Harvard University

* (, a site that displays information from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association (AMA), the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the American Psychiatric Association, among others

* The National Library of Medicine's MEDLINEplus (

Patient access to reliable and easy-tounderstand online health information is emerging as an important part of the health services equation. Increasingly, doctors, hospitals, and health-provider networks are putting their mark on information that's delivered by others. Some are creating medical information Web sites themselves., which operates the public and HealthScout .com sites, packages award-winning health information for such private labeling by hospitals and physicians. Healthwise, an Idaho company, has created a database for doctors that simplifies patient search for online medical information. It encourages physicians to "prescribe" online medical resources to their patients. These companies hope that insurance providers will begin to consider covering"information therapy"-pointing patients toward reliable health information-as a reimbursable treatment in the same ways they cover other medical practices and prescriptions. …

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