The 21st Century Physician and the Internet
The Internet is the world’s largest computer network. It has radically changed the way in which people from around the world receive, provide and share information and communicate with each other. It has had a major influence in medicine, with a constantly growing impact on physicians and other health care professionals, leading to often radical changes in many aspects of medical education, clinical care and research.
In particular, the Internet has revolutionized the way in which physicians acquire or update their professional knowledge and the way in which they communicate with a new generation of patients who are confronted with a constantly growing mass of information that they may access with the simple click on a mouse button. Examples of Internet resources - some basic, others more sophisticated, some already universally accepted, others still controversial - are mentioned below.
Administrative resources include information about, and applications for, universities or professional associations, registrations for professional activities such as congresses, workshops, or training seminars, and online subscription to scientific journals or purchase of medical books.
Educational resources include easy access to online books, diagnostic manuals and classifications, scientific articles, seminars, daily medical news, drug databases, assessment tools, and guidelines for the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of specific disorders. General medical supersites such as Medscape or HealthGate offer searchable directories that provide information on news items, conference summaries, treatment updates, practice guidelines, patient resources, and links to other relevant resources.
Educational resources are increasingly integrated in programs that are proposed for continuous medical education, and some of the CME material on the Internet is officially recognized for accreditation.
Research resources include instant access to existing data bases through search machines such as Medline, that provide comprehensive listings of relevant articles, abstracts, as well as links to the full texts themselves. Databases such as the Cochrane library offer systematic reviews on the effects of healthcare or controlled trials in an effort to create an unbiased source of data for systematic reviews.
Information for patients
Information for patients on the Internet include sites - such as DepNet - where people affected with a specific disorder may look for information relevant to the origin, course, or treatment of their disorder. Many sites also provide counselling, sometimes online, and advice for self-help, as well as tools to support and help relatives, and opportunities to meet and exchange experiences.
Some sites propose full online programs for the self-assessment and treatment of specific disorders. FearFighter, for example, is an online program for the self-assessment and treatment of anxiety disorders.
On the whole, the Internet offers an astounding variety and wealth of exponentially growing medical information. Some of this information is excellent, some is of very poor quality. Physicians as well as patients may be bewildered by the sheer quantity of available information and by the fact that the data or views encountered on the Internet are often contradictory from one site to another.
There is a need for expert guidance and organisational tools to help physicians and other medical professionals in the CNS field find their way to the reliable and objective knowledge and information that they need in their daily clinical practice in neurology or psychiatry. This is what CNSforum intends to provide.
Published on CNSforum 17 Aug 2002