HHS to study physician alert site

Congress wants to determine whether physicians should have access to a specialized Web site that would give them medical alerts and information about how to treat biological threats.

The idea was tucked into the fiscal 2002 appropriations bill signed last week by President Bush for the departments of Education, Labor and Health and Human Services. Although they did not earmark any money, lawmakers directed HHS to investigate whether a doctor-only site is a good idea.

"Access to this Web-based technology...will allow the nation's primary care providers to receive important federal health news and alerts as well as up-to-date information on treatment protocols for biological threats," lawmakers said in a conference report on the legislation.

Lawmakers want HHS to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health as well as the medical community to determine what's needed.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a variety of sites offered information to doctors and public health officials.

These include the CDC's site (www.cdc.gov), which has an array of information on terrorism and bioterrorism for practicing physicians, and the Health Alert Network (www.phppo.cdc.gov/han), the communication backbone for rapid deployment of health information.

HAN was activated four hours after the first attack on Sept. 11. Since then, CDC issued more than 175 updates to about 7 million health professionals and the public through various channels.

Harry Fini, vice president of business development and sales for World Medical Leaders, which has a subscription physicians-only Internet site, said a doctor-only site is a good idea. The WML site, ({http://www.wml.com} www.wml.com) has information in "medical jargon," Fini said. "We're not going to dumb it down for the lay person."

Bettilou Taylor, the minority staff counsel on the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Labor, Education and Health and Human Services, said Congress wants to encourage groups to work together to help doctors. "Some of the state agencies don't have good communications, and the idea is how to make things more accessible out there," Taylor said.

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