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ACP Foundation, National Library of Medicine Launch National Consumer Information Program

NEW ORLEANS, LA - April 27, 2004 — Think of doctors' prescriptions, and you probably think pills. But a new program encourages the nation's internists to write a prescription from a trustworthy Web site of free medical information, www.medlineplus.gov. The program is jointly sponsored by the American College of Physicians Foundation (ACPF) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM), an arm of the National Institutes of Health.

"Part of an internist's job is to explain illnesses and diagnoses to their patients," said Whitney W. Addington, MD, chair of the ACP Foundation Board of Trustees. "NLM's MedlinePlus provides authoritative, user-friendly and commercial-free information that doctors can use to supplement information provided in the office or clinic."

ACP's 115,000 internist members will be encouraged to "prescribe" information for their patients from MedlinePlus (www.medlineplus.gov) using a special "prescription pad" during office visits.

"Physicians have always known that an informed patient who takes an active role is a 'better' patient," noted NLM Director Donald A.B. Lindberg, MD. "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."

Traditionally, physicians have supplemented discussion of a diagnosis or condition in the office with brochures that are rarely tailored to each patient's special needs. Today, the majority of U.S. adults online — 80 percent — use the Internet to find health information, and most say it helps them get better health care, according to a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Dr. Addington pointed out that health content on the Net ranges from clinical research to pharmaceutical product sales promotions, to endorsements of herbal and mineral supplements and everything in between. "It's not easy to determine the credibility or validity of online health information," he said. "MedlinePlus is a Web site physicians use, and it's also consumer friendly for patients. It's a site we can recommend to our patients without reservations."

MedlinePlus has information on more than 650 diseases and conditions, and links to pre-formulated searches of the MEDLINE database to allow viewers to find references to the latest professional articles on health topics. Under each topic, patients will find information on symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, current news stories, research studies, clinical trials, helpful graphics, and interactive tutorials. MedlinePlus accepts no advertising and most information is available in Spanish.

The project is being launched nationally on April 22, 2004, the opening day of the American College of Physicians Annual Session in New Orleans. According to Dr. Addington, the joint project has been tested in Georgia and Iowa by more than 500 ACP internists and their patients. Pre- and post-tests found that 97 percent of the participating internists made information referrals, with 59 percent using the prescription pads for information provided by ACPF and NLM. Twenty percent of participating physicians also reported an increase in patients bringing Internet information to the office visit.

Internists who participated in the pilot programs said that MedlinePlus empowers patients (54 percent), explains difficult concepts and procedures (43 percent), and improves patient-physician communication (42 percent). The project was modified for the third stage of the pilot program in Virginia in March 2004 to partner with Virginia librarians as an additional resource to help patients use MedlinePlus.

The ACPF and NLM program provides participating internists with a poster, bookmarks, and a supply of prescription pads on which the physician can write in a disease or condition and advise patients how to look up the information on MedlinePlus. The NLM's National Network of Libraries of Medicine will help patients who have questions about access to MedlinePlus.

The ACP Foundation exists to support the mission of the American College of Physicians and to improve the health of the public through the creation and support of programs in education, research, service, and professionalism. A nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia, the ACP Foundation works with other health organizations, the public, and corporations.

The National Library of Medicine is part of the National Institutes of Health, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the nation's largest medical library.

Source: The National Institutes of Health

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