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Intorduction to Healthcare on the Internet

­Stan Gelber

Computers have become an indispensable and essential tool in the world of healthcare management and patient care. The introduction and use of computer technology has provided tremendous benefits in three major areas:
  1. The availability of computerized, comprehensive patient information systems that tracks, manages and monitors treatment progress.
  2. The development and use of new microprocessor-based technologies such as those found in MRI and CAT scanners used to locate difficult problem areas.
  3. The massive knowledge base available through the sharing of research and information.

This article reviews the first and third of these three areas: information systems, knowledge bases and more specifically the Internet.

The Beginning

At the beginning of the 1980s, the next step in the above-described evolution was the introduction of networking (connecting the computers of a facility together using cable or wire). Departmental information could be placed into databases which enabled shared access to information resources among users who were connected together. This expanded the way in which we used data for everything from centralized billing to patient management.

Today, using the tremendous resources of the Internet, new horizons can be attained in terms of access to information, treatment methodologies, and research. The Internet is a vast warehouse of information that spans the globe. In reality, the Internet consists of millions of corporate, university, hospital, and user networks connected together using the telephone companies of the world.

The Promise

Accessing the resources of the Internet is fairly straight forward. You need to have a computer with a modem for communications using a telephone line, the proper software, and an account with one of the thousands of Internet access and service providers who would love to have your business. Costs will vary but they usually fall within the twenty to thirty dollars per month range plus what you would pay for the telephone line.

Once you have established net access, you will find that it is very user friendly and a vast array of resources immediately at your finger tips. These information resources include:
  • Access to healthcare resources from libraries, hospitals, and the national Library of medicine (Medline)
  • Access to current research from private and public organizations such as pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and research organizations
  • Access to new treatment methodologies, procedures, and statistics.
Another part of the Internet allows you to establish contact with your professional peers for the exchange of data, perspectives, and information about your respective fields of interests.

The Internet enables you to transfer information around the world. This can include graphics scanned into a digital format as well as patient charts that can be used for remote consultations. The Internet also supports mailing lists (information delivered to your electronic mailbox) covering over 22,000 subjects as well as newsgroups supporting professional forums for almost every career path. You can access medical and healthcare databases and retrieve articles and research papers. You can also find employment in your specific field. Finally, extensive resources are available for information searches and retrieval based upon keyword values.

The Reality

At the present time, the Internet supports a worldwide network consisting of over seven million networks, one hundred fifty million documents, and fifty one million users. It is also growing at the rate of 35% per month. This growth has not been painless as we frequently experience substantial slowdowns and disconnects. We must wade through what seems to be endless pages of useless or non-relevant information, and learning how to use some of the tools is time consuming and often disappointing. But what will the Internet be like in the future?

The Future

New Internet software containing intelligent agents smart enough to remember your interests and needs are just around the corner. Additionally, new Internet services are arriving on a daily basis including video conferencing, video delivery, virtual reality chat rooms, reference guides, new search processes and remote diagnostic medicine applications. Internet service providers along with the telephone companies of the world are also in the process of developing and implementing new delivery methodologies that will dramatically improve the speed of our Internet connections. Finally, new technologies are in the process of being delivered which will allow us to more efficiently search the net and eliminate the retrieval of unrelated information without having to be a computer expert.

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