A personal review of:

Health on the Internet

Dennis Anthony 1996 Blackwell Science; Oxford

ISBN 0-632-04072-6 158pp £12.99

A shorter version of this book review was published in Nursing Standard. 11(18) 22 on 22.1.97

This book provides a useful introduction to the Internet and some of the health resources available. It offers a well structured introduction for new Internet users (including those who are put off by potential technical difficulties), and pointers for more experienced users, including those requiring technical information or experienced researchers trying to locate an obscure document.

The author has brought to the book his experience of establishing the "Nurse" gopher and World Wide Web (WWW) site, and running nurse-uk and midwifery mailing lists, and his recent role as on-line editor for nursing standard.

A wide range of resources relevant to health, are briefly described within most of the chapters. There are some graphics included to show what WWW pages look like. The sites are relevant to healthcare practice and research and from countries around the world, with a UK bias. It would have been a useful addition to have listed these and given the address (or URL), perhaps at the back of the book, although the chapters on finding resources and Uniform Resource Locators should help those new to the Internet, to locate and utilise the resources.

Also highlighted are some of the issues arising out the increasingly commercial nature of the Internet and the political issues raised. The relevance of these to health service management are considered, including some evaluation of the potential changes the NHS wide networking (NHSnet) will bring. Security issues, so vital in healthcare, are linked to national and international policy and commercial considerations.

Some of the terminology used is necessarily technical, however an extensive glossary of terms is provided along with an index. The chapters can be accessed in isolation, however this leads to some repetition of material.

Throughout the book there is emphasis on gopher use compared to the World Wide Web. The WWW is still a very recent development, even in Internet terms, but is the one many potential readers will be using to start their exploration of the Internet.

The book has something for everyone who recognises the potential implication of the Internet for healthcare and wants to find out more.

Chapter 1 - Introduction

This chapter gives a brief history of the Internet and a picture of what it is and who uses it today. The rapid pace of change in this technology means that no paper publication can ever be completely up to date, and users methods of access vary widely, however an attempt has been made to be as up to date as possible and provide resources for a wide range of potential users.

Chapter 2 - Connecting to the Network.

This chapter sets out the hardware and software required to connect to the Internet with a particular emphasis on Windows 95 .

Chapter 3 - Health-Related Resources

This chapter highlights USENET, Email lists and WWW resources for nurses, doctors, health, midwifery, and gives the methods of access of various resource guides. A developing potential in the use of the Internet for course delivery is also briefly mentioned.

Chapter 4 - Libraries and Related Resources

Present and potential use of the Internet to enable access to remote libraries and the material they hold is considered. Several sites are listed, with brief descriptions of what they have to offer. However in a short chapter it is impossible to do justice to the amount of information available or the changing nature of the format of the information.

Chapter 5 - Commercial Uses of the Net

This chapter highlights some of the issues arising out the increasingly commercial nature of the Internet. The relevance of these to health service management are considered, along with political issues. Including some evaluation of the potential changes the NHS wide networking (NHSnet) will bring. Security issues, so vital in healthcare, are linked to national and international policy and commercial considerations. Further discussion of the current encryption debate would have been useful.

Chapter 6 - Electronic Publishing

Various methods of electronic publishing are described and compare against each other and against hardcopy. Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML), the code used to create web pages, is briefly described.

Chapter 7 - Distributed Teaching Resources

This is placed within its historical context, leading to resources sharing and contains a proposal for a way forward for this work. Arguments about quality control and validation could have been further explored and related to debates about censorship versus freedom of information on the Net.

Chapter 8 - Setting Up an On-line Service

This is a more technical chapter, and can safely be skipped by most readers. Many of the technical requirements for setting up an on-line service are mentioned, however the precise method used will depend on local systems considerations.

Chapter 9 - Telnet: Logging into Computer Systems

Telnet is a useful method of connecting to another computer attached to the Internet. This chapter explains ways in which this may be achieved, but perhaps this is becoming less important with the growth of the WWW.

Chapter 10 - Downloading Files: ftp

File Transfer Protocol (ftp) is the fastest method of transferring large files across networks. The use of ftp in retrieving files & sending them to another computer are covered, along with finding the address of the files required.

Chapter 11 - Electronic Mail (Email)

Email is the workhorse of the Internet, this chapter not only sets out how to send & receive email, but places it within a context of communication theory.

Chapter 12 - Electronic Mail Lists

Email lists allow one to many communication. Several types are described and the methods of subscription (generally free) are described.

Chapter 13 - USENET Newsgroups

The breadth of Newsgroups, available as another one to many communication, are described, including the anarchic nature of this medium and the setting up of new Newsgroups.

Chapter 14 - Netiquette

The inclusion of a chapter on netiquette is important as fear of inappropriate posting can put off users of mailing lists and Newsgroups, and useful advice is given.

Chapter 15 - Gopher

Gopher Services are described, along with their history and use. Gopher provides many useful tools many of which are being taken over by the World Wide Web, and this chapter may not be used by many readers.

Chapter 16 - The World Wide Web

The structure of the WWW is described including the client-server paradigm and browsers. As this is the fastest growing area of the Internet more could usefully have been put in this chapter. Specifically modern browser capabilities.

Chapter 17 - Uniform Resource Locators

URLs are explained and explored.

Chapter 18 - Searching for Information: Indexes and Resource Lists

Technical aspects and search strategies are described. More should have been included about modern WWW search engines and how to use them.

Not Covered (? In enough depth):

Java/Active X

Multimedia aspects - sound/video/animation


Security/encryption (particularly relevant in healthcare)

The difference between home/LAN use

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Page Created: 15.12.96

Last Updated: 11.11.00