NET NEWS: Blueprint for Cyber Health Care

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Science  03 Mar 2000:
Vol. 287, Issue 5458, pp. 1551
DOI: 10.1126/science.287.5458.1551c

A homebound elderly woman consults with her physician about her salt intake through a Web video connection, while a Miami mom with a wheezing baby gets a nurse's advice in Spanish using an Internet translator. That's part of the virtual medical world foreseen by a new report on cybermedicine from a committee of the Institute of Medicine. Getting there, however, will take more work on technologies such as high bandwidth and secure connections, the panel says.

Requested by the National Library of Medicine, the report, Networking Health, concludes that the flood of Web sites offering health advice is just a “small sampling” of the Net's health care potential. With sufficient bandwidth, security, speed, and access, the possibilities are huge. For example, an emergency room physician could look at a patient's medical records from across town; and medical labs could electronically file test results with public health departments, speeding the tracking of infectious outbreaks. And collaborating researchers at distant universities could simultaneously manipulate a virtual image of a molecule.

But “organizational impediments” may hamper cybermedicine's growth, the panel said. Health care providers, for instance, tend to keep records on internal networks because they are concerned that the Internet may not be secure. The report makes a host of recommendations for overcoming such problems, such as developing better cybersecurity schemes.

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