CYBERTHERAPY: The Wave of the Future?
Although the notion of e-therapy -- online individual psychotherapy -- may make many people cringe, Boston Globe columnist Judy Foreman indicates that the Internet might not be such a bad option, considering the "unmet need for mental health services" in America. Furthermore, Foreman asserts, those who need help might actually prefer confiding in a computer. Currently several sites offer diagnosis and assessment services, including www.mediconsult.com and www.healthtechsys.com. Foreman notes that while diagnosis and assessment are the least controversial, many psychiatrists are growing concerned that eventually patients will be treated by therapists they have never seen. Many doctors believe that online therapy would preclude the therapist from picking up on a patient's non-verbal cues. Other therapists, including University of California-Davis psychiatrist Dr. Russell Lim, use e-mail to keep in touch with patients, particularly those who need to travel far distances for their in-person appointments. They see a distinction between using the Internet for "staying in touch" with current patients and conducting therapy between strangers online. Dr. Robert Hsiung uses the Internet to conduct virtual self-groups and sometimes puts patients suffering from the same ailments in touch with one another. Nevertheless, he cautions his patients to be careful when sending personal information, since the Web is not totally secure. Foreman acknowledges that cybertherapy still has some serious drawbacks and concludes that "therapy is a complex, subtle human endeavor that would lose something essential in cyberspace" (12/6).
IBM announced Monday that it plans to build a powerful, new supercomputer to help scientists understand how proteins -- the building blocks of the body -- get their shape. Called Blue Gene, the computer will take up to five years and $100 million to complete and is expected to be 1 million times faster than the average desktop computer. IBM officials hope that the computer will provide researchers with information crucial to understanding complex illnesses such as AIDS and hepatitis. IBM Senior Vice President of Research Paul Horn said, "With this project, we have a chance not only to change the future of computing, but also the future of health care" (Svensson, AP/Minneapolis Star Tribune, 12/7).
Not to be left behind in the rapidly expanding electronic-health marketplace, the Mayo Clinic is planning to create a private Internet company to launch a new health education Web site aimed at increasing the research facility's presence in the market (Winslow, Wall Street Journal, 12/6). The interactive web site, expected to be up and running next spring, will provide greater access to the Mayo Clinic's 2,000 physicians in an effort to help patients better "guide their medical care." Although it has yet to be named, the site will be an addition to the facility's current Web site, www.mayohealth.org, which contains an extensive library of health information. Dr. Michael Wood, CEO of the Mayo Foundation, said, "The Internet is changing the practice of medicine. ... This has added a new dimension to health care." However, he cautioned that the new site will provide only general information "so we're not in the business of practicing medicine over the Internet" (Taus, AP/St. Paul Pioneer Press, 12/7).
Healtheon/WebMD TV Debut
In an effort to become a large player in the health care information market, News Corp. announced yesterday its plans to invest nearly $1 billion in cash and advertising time into the newly established Healtheon/WebMD Corp. News Corp. will have access to Healtheon/WebMD's "branded content," which it will then market and promote on its TV stations, broadcast networks, books and newspapers. As part of the deal, News Corp. will invest $100 million to create an international venture that will market Healtheon/WebMD products and services. An additional $100 million will buy News Corp. a 10.8% stake in the online health information provider. Jeff Arnold, CEO of Healtheon/WebMD, said, "This gives us a springboard to attack the globe" (Lippman/Carrns, Wall Street Journal, 12/7).