WSJ Examines Federal Government’s Online Medical Information
As part of its special "Health & Medicine" section yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported on the steps the federal government has taken to allow doctors and consumers to access medical information through the Internet. In April 1996, the National Library of Medicine made its medical and scientific database, Medline, available online free of charge. Medline is now used for more than 250 million searches per year, compared to seven million -- "mostly by trained librarians on behalf of doctors and scientists" -- before it went online. One-third of the searches are now conducted by the general public, a number that has "amazed" the NLM, according to director Don Lindberg. The library followed Medline two years later by launching MedlinePlus, a site for consumers, and last February it started ClinicalTrials.gov, a "database that consumers as well as physicians can tap for information on government-sponsored clinical trials." According to Edward Shortliffe, head of the department of medical informatics at Columbia University, the NLM is the "shining light" in developing online resources. Other federal departments have followed NLM's lead, as HHS in 1997 launched healthfinder.gov, an "umbrella Web site that serves as the official federal Internet gateway to consumer health information." And Medicare.gov, run by HCFA, now performs such functions as informing people how to enroll in Medicare and offering comparisons among nursing homes in a particular region. The Journal reports that the library's next effort will focus on working with "libraries across the country to help make Internet health information available to anyone who wants it, regardless of whether they have a computer or Internet skills" (Landro, Wall Street Journal, 2/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.