Monday, September 24, 2007

Health Online

The World Wide Web is beginning to compete with human interaction as the amount and range of services provided on the net meet and sometimes even exceed those available to us in our neighbourhoods.

But can the internet meet all our needs?

One service that is being offered over the internet through thousands of websites is healthcare information and advice.

Some argue that these resources are a danger to people who have health problems because the internet is so difficult to mediate or standardise, however the accessibility of the internet does seem to open up a lot of possibilities to the world of medicine and health.

Dr Peter Garcia-Webb is the chairman of the Australian Medical Association IT committee. Aimee McIntosh speaks with Peter to find out about the world of online health.

"I think it (online medicine) offers a huge amount. Obviously there are some areas like anything where the information is not such good quality, but there also are some quite good quality sites. And particularly when an individual is considering the follow up of disease and looking to get a bit more information."

Dr Webb explains that the online world can be good for follow up and information, however it faces obstacles in the area of diagnosis, and so online health has to be approached together with consultation with a doctor.

"One of the difficulties in a person trying to find out what's wrong with them from using the web, is that they might miss the real problem. There's got to be a balance between trying to fix it yourself and getting professional advice."

Some websites offer online consultation with a qualified doctor. Aimee asks Dr Webb if these 'medical chat-rooms' could substitute face to face consultations.

"One of the major difficulties of just chat-room type medicine is that the doctor doesn't end up seeing the patient, and although you could say you could easily manage over the phone, in point of fact if the patient is blue and I don't know that, that is slightly different to if they're pink. So it's quite possible to miss things quite seriously if we're dealing with just words."

There are many excellent health resources available on the internet but like anything on the net, it's important to be careful and critical of information, look out for sites run by organisations that you know and trust, and always make use of information along with advice from your doctor.

A couple of helpful and reliable websites include:

Lab Tests Online - This is a website launched last month by the federal health minister Tony Abbott, which offers in depth but easy to understand explanations of all the tests your doctor prescribes for you

Department of Health and Aging - This website for the government's department of health and aging which provides information on health services and health products in Australia and links to to other reliable health information on the internet

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