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Health Center helps find
information on the Net
October 19, 1998

For many people, searching for health information on the Internet can seem more like drowning than surfing. Random searches on common problems like asthma, arthritis, or heart disease call up thousands of references - some of which are legitimate and reputable, and some of which are not.

To help Connecticut residents find the right information, the Lyman Maynard Stowe Library at the Health Center is linked to every public library in the state. Through Healthnet: Connecticut Consumer Health Information Network, Health Center professionals provide training to local librarians about how to direct people to the best resources, as well as reference assistance to help librarians answer consumer health questions. Healthnet staff also prepare bibliographies on consumer health issues and resources.

"There is so much information available to consumers that people run the risk of missing the most relevant information or worse yet, reading the wrong information," explains Alberta L. Richetelle, program director of the Healthnet program. "We can help librarians direct consumers to the best available resources."

The Health Center library started the Healthnet service for local librarians in 1985. The Health Center library also has an extensive selection of medical journals and books, as well as on-line databases like MEDLINE, the world's largest database of peer-reviewed health information. The National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health expanded public access to MEDLINE in 1997 by making it available free of charge on the Internet.

"Working with public libraries, consumers today can tap into a wealth of valuable health information," explains Ralph Arcari, director of the Lyman Maynard Stowe Library at the Health Center and the regional medical library of New England.

"Often, doctors and health care providers encourage patients to learn more about health issues using the Internet," explains Arcari. "Patients also have become savvy consumers and want to learn more about their health." Arcari noted, however, that information gleaned over the Internet can never replace the value of seeking an opinion from a health care professional.

Robert Cushman, professor and chair of family medicine at the UConn School of Medicine, agrees. "It's wonderful that so much information is now available to people. However, all this information can be a bit mind-boggling, and even contradictory."

He stressed that people should "connect with their physician if they have questions or concerns, rather than trying to diagnose or treat themselves based on their own exploring of the Web."

Maureen McGuire