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Docs Urged to Warn Patients of Flawed Online Treatment

May 29, 2000|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — As more doctors and therapists go online, a health care coalition is urging them to warn patients about the limits of getting help on the Internet.

Under voluntary guidelines released Wednesday, health care providers should tell patients when face-to-face interactions are better than cyberspace chats. The online doctor also should help patients find local care offline.

Because the Internet is still new, some professionals may not be aware of the Internet's limits, said Dr. Helga Rippen, chairwoman of the Internet Healthcare Coalition (http://www.ihealthcoalition.org) and an official with drug-maker Pfizer Inc.

The phone carries similar constraints, she said Tuesday, but "it's been used for many years."

The coalition includes representatives from various industry, academic and advocacy groups, such as Web site Medscape, drug manufacturer Glaxo Wellcome and the University of Colorado.

It plans to help sites apply the principles over the next several months.

Thousands of Web sites offer health related services, and many allow health professionals to practice medicine online. Some doctors and therapists have also set up Web sites to handle patient queries.

Critics say doctors and therapists sometimes push ethical boundaries online. They say missed clues from facial expressions could lead to improper diagnoses. Some Web sites also let computer users order drugs without prescriptions.

Like guidelines issued in March by the American Medical Assn. (http://www.ama-assn.org), the coalition's "eHealth Code of Ethics" also addresses the potential for misleading information and breaches of confidentiality.

Writing for its own sites, the AMA did not address the ethics of doctors who diagnose patients online and authorize prescriptions.

The coalition's guidelines, meant for all health sites worldwide, cover those doctors, as well as nurses, pharmacists, therapists and any other professional who provides online advice or care.

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