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The 'Health Information Rx'
NLM, Partners Launch Patient Information Program

Doctors often prescribe medication after seeing a patient. But what if that doctor also wants to direct the patient to up-to-date, reliable, consumer-friendly information about a health concern? Under a pilot program recently launched in Georgia and Iowa, physicians throughout those states will be able to do just that.

NLM has teamed up with the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine Foundation (ACP-ASIM Foundation) to create the "Health Information Rx"(information prescription) program. Now, internists will receive customized prescription pads that they can use to point patients to first-rate online health information in the library's MEDLINEplus database (

Dr. Donald Lindberg (l), NLM director, meets with Dr. Michael Kienzle (c) of the Iowa chapter of the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine, and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin. At the Apr. 8 event in Des Moines, Harkin was the recipient of the first Information Rx in the state of Iowa.

Kickoff events took place in Atlanta on Mar. 18 and in Des Moines on Apr. 7. Former HHS Secretary Louis W. Sullivan, president emeritus of Morehouse School of Medicine, spoke at the Atlanta event, along with Georgia Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor. Special guests in Des Moines included U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Whitney Addington, chair of the ACP-ASIM Foundation.

Why do NLM and the foundation consider this project so important?

"Physicians have always known that an informed patient who takes an active role is a 'better' patient," said NLM director Dr. Donald Lindberg, who appeared at the Georgia and Iowa launches. "We believe that both patients and their doctors will welcome this additional medical tool — good medical information — in their continuing efforts to provide good health care. Medical and public libraries will play an important role in the success of the Information Rx project, just as they have with MEDLINEplus itself," he added. "We look forward to working with the members of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine in this project."

With contents culled from the NIH institutes and other public and private health sites on the Internet, MEDLINEplus has information on more than 600 health topics. Under each, patients will find nuts-and-bolts information on symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, current news stories, research studies, clinical trials, helpful graphics and even interactive tutorials. There's detailed but easy-to-read information on thousands of over-the-counter and prescription drugs, too. And MEDLINEplus is also available in Spanish.

The Atlanta launch of the "Health Information Rx" project featured (from l) Lindberg; Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, former HHS secretary; Mark Taylor, lieutenant governor of Georgia; Sara Walker, president, ACP-ASIM board of regents; and Dr. Joe Stubbs, governor, Georgia chapter, ACP-ASIM.

Why is it important that doctors steer their patients to MEDLINEplus? Can't they just suggest the patients do a general Internet search?

"Unfortunately, some patients lack the knowledge needed to find good health care information online," commented Harkin. "Also, they might not be able to guard against marketing schemes disguised as web sites."

According to recent research, 6 million Americans go online daily to search for information about health and disease. Additional findings show that nearly 70 percent of patients nationwide would pay serious attention to a web site recommended by their physician.

"Used properly, the Internet can be just as helpful a healthcare tool as the biopsy, the x-ray and the electrocardiogram," observed former HHS Secretary Sullivan in Atlanta. "That is why I hope doctors in Iowa and Georgia will embrace the Health Information Rx program, directing patients eager for good consumer health information to the gold standard, MEDLINEplus. I think they'll find that, used in conjunction with their doctor's good care, information is the best medicine."

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