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Is e-health care the future of medicine?


November 4, 1999
Web posted at: 12:13 p.m. EST (1713 GMT)

From Medical Correspondent Steve Salvatore

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Right now there are thousands of Web sites where consumers can access volumes of medical information, receive prescriptions and even schedule online appointments with real doctors. And Web-based health care is still a growing industry.

That growth became apparent at the e-HealthCareWorld convention in New York this week where hundreds of companies are promoting medical Web sites. The convention, organized by e-MarketWorld, which specializes in industry specific Internet conferences, is focusing on the expanding role of the Internet and electronic media in the practice of medicine.

Just this week the American Medical Association (AMA) announced plans to launch its own site called early next year. The AMA says its site will provide patients with a way to communicate confidentially with doctors online.

A group which already provides medical services over the Internet is The site was started three years ago by Dr. Thomas Caffrey and two other doctors and specializes in virtual doctors visits.

VideoDr. Steve Salvatore reports on the growth of healthcare sites on the internet and what the future may hold for consumers looking for healthcare.
Windows Media 28K 80K

CyberDocs offers appointments and 24-hour emergency consultation from anywhere in the world.

"There's about 30 million Americans at any time outside the United States who are traveling or working and they want to speak to an American doctor when they get sick," said Caffrey.

Some physicians have been critical of doctors who prescribe medications over the Internet without ever seeing their patients.

"If you start to practice medicine you are doing so with incomplete information and I think there are some real dangers there," said Dr. Rick Abbott of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.

In response to concerns like this the AMA decided to develop guidelines for Internet prescribing at its annual meeting in June.

However, CyberDocs said they dispense only a handful of medications.

"The drugs that we say that we're able to prescribe are generally very safe and we're able to do it in very finite doses, just to help people bridge the gap so they don't wind up in an emergency room," said Caffrey.

Still, experts advice caution when considering using an online doctor.

"When these sites get into marketing I think there can be some real conflicts of interest and the patient isn't served well," Abbott said.

For their part, CyberDocs said they attempt to avoid conflicts of interest by not accepting advertising.

Though net medicine may have its flaws, even sceptics recognize that Web health care is the future.

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