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Book Review: Physicians' Guide to the Internet

Book Review: Physicians' Guide to the Internet

Those of us who have been involved in medicine for a number of years can remember a time when physicians were the ones who informed their patients about the latest advances in diagnosis and treatment. In the new electronic age, however, medical information is available to anyone and everyone almost from the moment of its conception. Medical journals and textbooks now take a back seat to television and computers in terms of prompt delivery of knowledge. In fact, many of the current journals are now "on line," available to anyone with a computer and a phone line.

One of the most important advances in information transfer is the Internet, which can provide instant access to almost any type of information desired, from almost any source in the world. In order to help the physician take advantage of this body of knowledge, the Physicians' Guide to the Internet attempts to lead the professional on his or her journey down the information superhighway.

The first 22 pages of this 212-page paperback are devoted to an introduction to the Internet. There is a brief chapter on hardware requirements and the various methods one can use to connect to on-line services that offer Internet access. This is followed by a description of Internet connections and discussions of such entities as e-mail, FTP, news groups, and the World Wide Web.

The rest of the book is basically a catalogue of medically related Internet sites, arranged alphabetically by subject. The section on Oncology, for example, has only one entry, the Web site for Oncolink, a cancer information service sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania. A look under Cardiology (my own subspecialty) reveals two sites, the Cardiac Prevention Research Center mail list and the Web site for a course created by Vanderbilt University. Other sections are devoted to allied health personnel, grants, career information, and a list of on-line medical libraries.

Unfortunately, the Physicians Guide to the Internet suffers from the same shortcomings as most print media about this topic-- namely, by the time they are published, they already are outdated. There are now literally hundreds of sites on the World Wide Web devoted to general as well as specialty medicine, none of which is listed in this book. The Web is currently the Internet service du jour, and it is simply teeming with medical information. Very few listings in this guide are of relevance to specialists, and many more comprehensive sources of information are now available on the "net."

In addition, the chapters on access also show signs of age. Today, computers can be purchased complete with point-and-click Internet Web browsers, and frequently come with offers for services that can connect one to the Web. Even standard services, such as Compuserve and America Online, offer Internet capability.

The Physicians' Guide to the Internet is a noble effort but has since been eclipsed by the explosion occurring in computer-based information access. Beginners new to computers and the Internet, who are interested in more information, will need a book with a much more comprehensive review of the material. Those familiar with "surfing the net" will find the contents of this guide fairly superficial and incomplete. If physicians are interested

in ways in which the Internet can enhance both their academic and clinical practice, I would strongly recommend that they attend one of the many mini-courses that are held at most of the major medical meetings throughout the country.

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