ONLINE HEALTH: UCSF Leads New Wave In Medical Chat Rooms
While seeking answers to medical questions has always been a popular reason to surf the Internet, some medical experts are now "wading gingerly into the mess, hoping to add some long-needed quality control and at the same time garner a little online visibility for their institutions," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Dr. Tom Ferguson, a Texas doctor and online medical expert, said, "It's easy to find junk on the Internet. There's a lot of variability, but in many cases you can get stuff now that's better than what you get from a doctor's office." A new collaboration between the University of California-San Francisco and Sapient Health Networks, an Oregon-based for-profit company, is a model for the new wave of online medical chat rooms. "Doctors, nurses and other UCSF experts regularly log on as moderators ... to keep the discussions on point, frequently challenging those making unsubstantiated claims or adding caveats where needed." Although the service is free, advance registration is required, which "seems to help keep a semblance of control." Sapient makes its profit by frequently polling its participants and selling the survey results to drugmakers and medical manufacturers. Sapient President and Cofounder James Kean said, "People want a framework to help assess all the information that's out there. They want a reliable source for all the breaking news that might concern them, and there's a real urge to be connected to a community -- but it's got to be a high-quality community." The UCSF-Sapient site can be accessed at www.shn.net.
www.intellihealth.com: This site is jointly operated by Johns Hopkins University Medical School and Aetna U.S. Healthcare. It allows the user to ask questions of university doctors and includes "zones" for different diseases and areas of concern.
www.betterhealth.com: The Web version of America Online's health chat room, this site features regularly scheduled discussions, "but not all the discussions seem to be led by recognized experts or doctors."
- www.koop.com: This site, scheduled to go online July 13, will be overseen by former surgeon general C. Everett Koop (Hall, 6/30).