HHS to offer doctors, patients medical facts on-line

Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services last week revealed plans to place on-line up-to-date practices for treating a variety of medical conditions - a move that could help accelerate the quality of health care in rural areas and inner cities.

HHS plans to have the huge clearinghouse of information which will be called the National Guideline Clearinghouse operational by late next year. The NGC will allow physicians and patients immediate access to current methods for diagnosing and treating numerous conditions such as Alzheimer's disease or skin cancer.

Medical workers now garner information on medical guidelines largely by reading hard-copy documents produced by medical associations health organizations or medical publishers.

HHS officials who have been working with the American Association of Health Plans and the American Medical Association to develop plans for the clearinghouse expect to release in the next few weeks a request for proposals to create the on-line clearinghouse. HHS declined to estimate how much the proj-ect will cost.

Jean Slutsky senior health policy analyst for HHS's Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (AHCPR) said the NGC stands to benefit medical workers and patients in rural areas inner cities or other areas where access to medical publications is limited.

The NGC will help doctors nurses and other medical practitioners who may be having a hard time keeping track of and synthesizing the mountain of medical guidelines that have been developed Slutsky said. "It allows everyone access to this information which right now is scattered " she said.

"Our experience is that when patients have better information it allows them to be more active partners with their physicians " an AHCPR spokesman said.

The Diagnosis

Bryan Pfaffenberger an associate professor of technology culture and communication at the University of Virginia said "My reaction initially is to say this is great. This is exactly what the Internet was supposed to do."

But the clearinghouse may have its drawbacks. Creation of the clearinghouse stands to alter the balance of power between physician and patient said Pfaffenberger who is author of Internet in Plain English and Protect Your Privacy on the Internet.

He said a patient will have a more readily available tool to use in determining whether his doctor is treating him with the most up-to-date methods. The situation is one that could touch off doctor-patient squabbles over treatment or more enlivened malpractice suits he added.

In addition public users of the site may take diagnoses and treatments into their own hands said Dr. Benjamin Krevsky associate professor of medicine at Temple University School of Medicine and chairman of the computer and technology subcommittee of the American Gastroenterological Association.

Pfaffenberger and Krevsky tend to favor the plan to establish a treatment guideline hub on the Internet. "I think this is a good thing " Krevsky said. "I like when [federal officials] put information out that has a consensus of recognized authority."

HHS officials also believe that more good than bad will result from putting medical guidelines in one place on the Internet.

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