Book Review


Healthcare Online for Dummies

Howard Wolinsky and Judi Wolinsky

(296 pp., $22.00, ISBN: 0-7645-0684-6, Hungry Minds, Inc.,
New York, NY, 2001.)

 

The For Dummies® computer book series is written for frustrated computer users who know they aren't dumb, but find the PC and its vocabulary make them feel helpless. This compact volume helps sort out the extensive healthcare sites.

The Wolinskys caution you in using the web: never use it for emergencies. However, to better equip you to prepare for emergencies, it directs you to the American College of Emergency Physicians' site at http://www.acep.org.

Dr. C. Everett Koop's www.DrugChecker.com lists drugs and interactions. However, complementary expected effects of drugs used for blood pressure reduction, like ACE inhibitors and beta blockers, are listed as moderate serious interactions.

If you'd like to fill prescriptions on the internet, try www.DestinationRx.com. It lists medications at discounts of 60 to 85 percent and directs you to that particular pharmacy. The typical statin drugs, $205 (90 days), are discounted 62 percent; Proton pump inhibitors, $350 (90 days), 85 percent.

For general information on health, try www.Healthfinder.gov. A health library finds almost any medical topic by referencing dictionaries and encyclopedias. A topical section finds health issues related to your age, gender or ethnic background. A health care section provides information about doctors, dentists, public clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, health insurance, prescriptions, health fraud, Medicare, Medicaid and medical privacy. A directory of health care organizations includes carefully selected websites from government agencies, clearinghouses, nonprofit organizations and universities. I found many medical organizations and their official journals. A section features a "topic of the day." The overview, discussion, references and bibliography were all relevant and geared to the public. I noted the URL changed to the NIH website, indicating that sites enhance coverage by linking imperceptibly to other sites.

The massive health information site of the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, www.MedLinePlus.gov, is the most complete. It has five major categories of information: 1) Health Topics: information on conditions, diseases and wellness, plus a medical encyclopedia. 2) Drug information on brand and generic drugs. 3) Dictionaries: spelling and definitions of medical terms. 4) Directories: locations and credentials of doctors, dentists and hospitals. 5) And other resources such as access to organizations, consumer health libraries, international sites, publications, MEDLINE and more. There are the usual problems in keeping lists current. The new locations for colleagues who moved three years ago were not yet listed.

Websites are constantly changing. The book suggests www.medterms.com which takes you to www.MedicineNet.com where the former listing of medical terms becomes just one of many categories. For exercise-induced asthma, the doctor focused on the generic induction of wheezing in 90 percent of asthmatics and failed to mention the syndrome of quiescent asthma, triggered only or primarily by exercise.

If you're searching for a hospital in the U.S., www.hospitalselect.com will find it in seconds. If you're more interested in hospital quality, the site for the "joint commission of accreditation of healthcare organizations" (www.jcaho.org) will give the current status. This site gives an up-to-date background of the accreditation process. The most recent change from my personal "hospital" to "medical center" is listed on the site.

The authors caution the reader that advertisers can influence the information or how it's displayed. Be sure to look for the HONcode seal. There is significant emphasis on diets and "food fads." One doctor's column suggests we forget the diet and enjoy life. I remember a patient, a manager of a weight-reducing salon, saying, "If we didn't tell the patients who were 'good' and lost a lot of weight to treat themselves with a high calorie dessert for 'being good,' we'd work ourselves out of our business."

The interspersed cartoons are hilarious. In one of them an explorer in the jungle is bitten by a poisonous snake. His partner is using a Palm Pilot to access the internet. He tells the suffering man to, "Calm down. Sometimes it takes a long time to download an antidote."

Eventually, the internet will have all the medical information found in university bookstores and libraries, as well as local bookstores. In the same way that bookstores and libraries have many different authors' textbooks of similar topics, this medical website would present information found at other sites, just in a different form. One can spend days perusing the internet of thousands of texts without purchase, but possibly for a nominal use fee. Healthcare Online is a revolutionary concept equivalent to the printing press. The internet can potentially make information available to billions. This compact volume is a valuable contribution that will help all readers, not just "dummies," get through the maze of Healthcare Online!

Reviewed by Delbert H. Meyer, MD
Sacramento, CA

Dr. Meyer is a pulmonologist and a member of the Editorial Board of the Medical Sentinel. His e-mail is: delmeyer@HealthCareCom.net.

Originally published in the Medical Sentinel 2002;7(1):31. Copyright©2002Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS)