Intended for healthcare professionals

Information In Practice

Netlines: The medical establishment on the webThe power of plug-insThe Dearing report on lineAnaesthetics on the web

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 30 August 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:529

Netlines: The medical establishment on the web

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The power of plug-ins

  • After surfing the web for a while, you can become blasé and think that you have seen it all. I was recently shocked out of such complacency when I installed some new plug-ins into my web browser. These small pieces of software add extra functions to your web browser, so that, for example, it can play movies or sounds or display molecular structures within a web page—for a full list of plug-ins see BrowserWatcher's Plug-In Plaza (

  • I installed HotSauce (, which allows you to navigate through the web by flying through a virtual 3-D space (termed X Space). It certainly gives a fresh perspective on the web—as the promotional material says, “Why surf when you can fly?” While flying through the X Space of the Plant Cell Biology site (, I experienced another shock of the new when I came across a web page ( that not only displayed an embedded QuickTime movie of the rotating 3-D structure of a protein—accessible because I had installed the QuickTime plug-in (—but also played Bach's Fugue in G minor in the background. Never has net-surfing been so civilised.

The Dearing report on line

Anaesthetics on the web

  1. Mark Pallen (m.pallen{at}

    Netpoints: Piloting patient attitudinal surveys on the web

    Developing surveys to elicit patients' attitudes is difficult, time consuming, and costly. To pilot an attitudinal questionnaire for women in families affected by endometriosis, we constructed a web site ( with a consent page followed by 25 multiple choice questions and six free response questions. We then sent a single invitation to participate in the study to over 700 members of an internet mailing list called WITSENDO, which is open to anyone with an interest in endometriosis.

    We recorded responses via email directly into a database for analysis. In one month we received 81 hits, from 74 individuals, and 54 responses to the survey. Response rates to the multiple choice questions ranged from 48% to 100%, with only six questions answered less than 95% of the time. We assumed these differences identified poorly constructed questions, which we then modified based on these pilot observations. We thought that we could easily determine participants' nationalities from the computer host names recorded with their replies. Ten (19%) of the respondents' computers did not have host names, only internet protocol addresses. Although we used specialised software to trace these addresses, the task was technically difficult and we do not recommend it.

    Our method elicited many responses in a short time. We received 42 (78%) replies within one day of emailing our invitation to WITSENDO members, about 10% of whom accessed our web site. Our invitation could have easily been overlooked given WITSENDO's high message volume. Multiple invitations spaced several days apart would have increased participation. We believe the web is a powerful resource for developing surveys in a quick and effective manner.

    Marc A Suchard, Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford OX3 7BN (

    Stephanie Adamson, Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Oxford, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford OX3 9DU

    Stephen Kennedy, Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Oxford (

    View Abstract