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28 June 2000

Prescriptions for the Internet

A select group of Bay Area business, industry and academic leaders will be briefed on Friday, July 7, of an important national report that examines the technical, organizational and policy-related efforts needed for the Internet to fulfill its potential in consumer health, clinical care and public health and biomedical research.

"Networking Health: Prescriptions for the Internet" is a report from the National Academies' Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB). The UCSF School of Pharmacy and Center for Health and Community is hosting the West Coast briefing of the report on July 7, 10 a.m. to noon, in N 225.

Mary Anne Koda-Kimble, dean of the School of Pharmacy, and Susan Graham, CSTB member and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at UC Berkeley, will deliver opening remarks. Members of the CTSB will present the report.

While tens of thousands of health-related web sites can be found on the Internet, tapping its full potential for health services and the biomedical sciences will require more advanced technical capabilities, says the report from the National Research Council of the National Academies (formerly the National Academy of Science, the National Academy of Engineering and the National Institute of Medicine). The health and information technology industries must begin to work more closely together to ensure that the Internet's capabilities evolve in ways that support a range of activities including providing health care, monitoring public health, and bolstering biomedical research.

"The kinds of technical capabilities that health care and biomedicine need from the Internet are not unique," said Edward H. Shortliffe, chair of the CTSB, which wrote the report. "But the operational demands of health care applications create distinctive requirements and must be considered in computer network design and implementation. The kinds of security, reliability, and quality of service that are necessary for physicians to use the Internet more routinely can go beyond those needed for e-commerce. Advances are needed in all these areas before we see physicians retrieving medical histories of emergency room patients on a more regular basis or doctors monitoring homebound patients using medical devices that send data over the Internet. Organizational and policy issues also must be addressed."

In 1999 an estimated 30 million Americans used the Internet to search for health-related information. A reported 32 percent of online users shopped for health products on the Web, spending $160 million on prescription drugs and $280 million on other health products. More than 190 million searches were run against the National Library of Medicine's medical publications database, said Shortliffe.

"That's 600,000 searches a day from more than 120,000 different users. These numbers demonstrate the increasing popularity of the Internet in health and health care and the ability of the Internet to revolutionize the health sector by connecting people, information, and services from anywhere across the country, if not across the globe," said Shoftliffe. "People continue to explore new applications, both within the health sector and beyond, and all forecasts point to increasing use of the Internet for health-related activities.

"But these numbers do not tell the whole story," he said. "They mask the fact that the Internet has not penetrated many areas of health and health care that promise even more significant transformations than we have seen to date."

NAS -- Significant Technological Barriers Remain for Providing Health Care on the Internet
Statement by Edward H. Shortliffe: Networking Health
National Academies

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