A good few doctors are still somewhat resistant to the idea of the Internet but this attitude is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain today. Even those who would like to take advantage of what the new technology offers, however, are often somewhat intimidated by the perceived difficulty of getting started. They may also have anxiety about potential risks to patient confidentiality. There is no doubt, however, that the role of the Internet is going to become ever more important for medicine and there is therefore a need for books such as this which approach the subject from a specifically medical angle.
Medicine and the Internet has been written by doctors for doctors. It starts with the basics: what the Internet is and how to access it. Brief introductions to emails, newsgroups, and the Web are provided. These are adequate so far as they go but are inevitably rather brief since the book is not intended to duplicate information available elsewhere. Communication with colleagues, both individually and in groups, is discussed in more detail. A good feature of this is that the authors point out both the advantages and the disadvantages of using this form of communication. Questions of privacy and security are well to the fore, as they should be.
Increasingly today, patients as well as doctors are getting some of their information from the Internet, and the book has a good discussion of the issues this raises. A flexible attitude is recommended if patients arrive armed with printouts of information they have trawled in this way. There is no need for the doctor to feel threatened by this; patients may become very well informed about the details of their own illnesses, since they are able to concentrate on these exclusively, whereas doctors need to be conversant with a much wider range of medical knowledge.
Doctors' use of the Internet to obtain medical information can take various forms. Among the topics discussed are clinical information and decision support systems, telemedicine consultations via the Internet, undergraduate and postgraduate medical education, information for patients (including how to approach the patient who arrives armed with a printout from the Internet), accessing MEDLINE, medical publishing on the Web and the future of medical journals, and information quality issues. I was particularly interested in the question of how to reference articles which have appeared solely in electronic form. The scope of the book is pretty comprehensive and the information supplied seems to be generally accurate.
One difficulty with books of this kind is that they tend to go out of date as soon as, or even before, they are published, so rapid is the pace of change on the Internet. This applies particularly to listings of Internet and Web sites. The present book avoids this problem to some extent by not having a list of such sites, although many are cited in the text. This has the disadvantage that if a reader remembers, say, that a website with good information about managing diabetes was mentioned somewhere in the book but doesn't remember where, he or she is going to have some difficulty in retrieving the information; websites are not included in the index. It would have been worth providing a list of all the sites included in the book. However, the ultimate solution to problems of this kind is to gain familiarity with using search engines, and the book has quite a reasonable discussion of this vital topic. There is a useful glossary of Internet terms.
This book can be recommended to medical "newbies" who are still trying to come to grips with the Internet, and it will also be useful to doctors who are already using the Internet for some purposes but are thinking of branching out into unfamiliar areas.