(How to Avoid Being Roadkill on
the Information Superhighway)

1996 All Rights Reserved
Richard R. Orsinger

IX. THINGS ARE STARTING TO LOOK AWFULLY DIFFERENT OUT THERE. Consider the following passage from the first edition of III Encyclopedia Britannica 58 (1771), from the article entitled "Medicine":

"Many causes have contributed to retard our progress in the knowledge of the causes and cure of diseases. In the early ages, prescriptions were either the result of tradition founded upon certain facts, or mere random trials without any rational view of success: Accordingly, when any uncommon case occurred, the patients were placed in cross-ways, and other public places, to receive the advice of passengers who might chance to know the disease or an efficacious remedy. In this way valuable medicines might be accidentally discovered."

Compare the foregoing excerpt to the following "Ann Landers" column from a recent newspaper:


Dear Ann Landers: Your column has often given readers invaluable information about how to recognize and get help for their health problems. Computers can now provide even more help. Anyone with access to the Internet can tap into the world's largest and most up-to-date collection of medical and scientific information.

The National Library of Medicine's vast database, called "Internet Grateful Med," is available on the World Wide Web. This technology will be an important tool in saving lives and cutting health-care costs. Here are some examples of what Grateful Med has done.

A Maryland woman was heartbroken after experiencing six first-trimester miscarriages. She consulted Grateful Med and discovered a way to prevent these recurrent losses. She and her husband now have a healthy 11-month-old son.

A doctor in Watertown, N.Y., was baffled when an otherwise-healthy patient became beet red on one side of his body and chalky white on the other whenever he exercised. Through Grateful Med, the doctor was able to read articles about an extremely rare condition called harlequin syndrome. The man has since been successfully treated for the problem and is doing well.

A physician in a remote Alaska town had a patient who could not taste or smell. The doctor ran a computer search on Grateful Med and found 20 citations that fit the woman's condition and noted that nasal allergies could be the cause. The doctor used drug therapy to treat the allergy symptoms, and the patient regained her sense of taste and smell.

Please let your readers know about this exciting high-tech development in medical information. It can save lives.

Michael E. DeBakey, M.D., Baylor College of Medicine, Houston

Dear Dr. DeBakey: Thank you for making it possible for me to alert my readers to something that could help them cope with health problems and save lives.

Your dedication and innovative approach to medicine has made you one of the admired individuals in the annals of medical history. I send my warm regards and thanks.

Ann Landers"

San Antonio Express News, Tuesday, July 9, 1996

Think of it! One of the world's most famous doctors writes a letter which is published in hundreds of newspapers, and read by thousands of people, telling them to go to a place on the World Wide Web to diagnose their own illnesses. DeBakey's proposal is in many ways the cyberspace equivalent to putting a sick person at the cross-roads near a medieval town.

Another thing is noteworthy about DeBakey's effort: he is talking directly to the people, and telling them to use computers and the Internet to help heal themselves. He's cutting out the middle-men, to-wit: the doctors. Will people eventually answer questions posed by a computer, and receive a computer-generated diagnosis, without the intervention of a physician?

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Created August 27, 1996
Last updated August 27, 1996