Book Book

Medicine and the Internet: The Essential Guide for Doctors

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 09 March 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:618
  1. Douglas Carnall (dougie{at}, general practitioner
  1. London

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    Third edition

    Bruce C McKenzie

    Oxford University Press, £19.50, pp 320

    Published on 21 March

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    ISBN 0 19 851063 2

    Whatever the quality of health information on the internet—and the problems associated with its evaluation are well reviewed—there is no doubt that the best resources for understanding the internet are on the internet itself. Doctors might be forgiven for not having indulged in the kind of playful use of the internet that eventually leads to expertise. However, it is questionable whether any book can shortcut this process. Paper still has its advantages, but it's at its most useless describing the internet; it is better just to get on and surf.

    This book eschews making practical points about any particular client software. In sticking to its generic guns it wisely avoids advocating any individual platform, but also misses the opportunity to provide the necessary shortcuts and tips that would make using internet software more bearable for busy health professionals.

    The discussion is organised around application areas: clinical care, continuing medical education, publishing, commerce, and so on. The contributors provide concise overviews of how the internet is currently used in medicine. There are valuable referenced discussions on the potential (and pitfalls) of using the internet to communicate with patients, other professionals, and in research.

    No book covering the internet can be comprehensive. That means that the most important function of any such book should be to describe strategies for exploring it, but it is not until page 204 that the best search engine, Google, is mentioned, and its most interesting competitors (Teoma, Daypop, Vivismo) are not mentioned at all.

    The internet is changing publishing, and the description of internet access to most journals as being like “a helpful librarian leading you down a maze of corridors to the information you need, then asking you to pay for it” is apt. Will scientific authors really continue to give their work to publishers for free and then pay to get it back? “Of course for journals to survive they have to charge,” conclude section authors Godlee and Tamber. However, they shrink from one obvious conclusion—that paper journals may just die. It is perhaps ironic that there is no website of this book, something that is now routine in computer book publishing.

    Paradoxically, I think this book will be more useful to technical people outside medicine than doctors themselves. An intranet developer could scoop a sample of the links and make an evidence based resource in a morning, for example. Software developers could use it to review the kind of applications and resources that have already proved valuable in medicine, and develop and extend those ideas in their own products.

    Overall, though, the authors are to be congratulated: this is a cut above most medical internet guides in its ambition and scope, and orders what can often seem a chaotic field in a clear and educational manner.

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