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The Internet is a worldwide network of computer networks, where computer talk to one another using common protocols. Its origin can be traced back to 1969 when it was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DAPRA) was known as the APRANET. It was set up principally as a military network but later expanded to universities.

The 1990s saw companies and individuals fuel the growth of the Internet through one of its component the World Wide Web (also known as the Web).

The World Wide Web is the most common activity carried out on the Internet. It is a method of communication that uses Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). The Web consists of millions of pages of information.

On Web sites (a collection of web pages), certain words or phrases appear as a different color from the rest and are usually underlined. This text are known as hypertext and clicking on hypertext sends the user to another website or web page. This feature allows the users to easily navigate the millions of pages of information on the Web and this done using a client application called a web browser.


This easy accessibility of information has led to the increase in the popularity of health websites. Healthcare professionals and members of the general public now have access to information that they might not have had a few years ago.

Healthcare professionals can now get hold of research material on websites such as US Library of Medicine, the National electronic Library for Health and Public Health Laboratory Service.

Consumer Health Informatics has benefited from the Internet through consumer health information web sites which provide users with health information, usually about disease conditions and treatment plans. Some even goes as far as to offer online consultations. The quality of information from these websites however varies and some of the information is not outdated but sometimes misleading.

Good quality websites such as WebMD are compliant with the 8 principles set out by the Health on the Net Foundation and are usually accredited by the URAC and Discern. These two organisations are involved in improving the quality of health information that is available on the Web.

Healthcare organisations like the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK have taken advantage of the Web to provide not only health information but also information about itself and all the activities it is involved in order to improve the quality of healthcare it provides. Some of these organisations also use the Internet to provide remote access by their staff for clinical and administrative activities.

Another activity that is carried out on the Internet is e-commerce. Online pharmacies such as drugstore.com and even traditional pharmacies such as CVS, sell prescribed and non-prescribed drugs over the Internet and make use of a mail delivery service to get the drugs purchased to the buyers. Business to business online transactions are no longer a rarity as healthcare providers can now purchase goods and services (anything from printing paper to heath information systems) on the Internet.

E-mail (short for electronic mail) is probably the second most popular activity on the Internet. The user writes a letter using an e-mail client application such as Microsoft Outlook, sends that to another user, who also an e-mail client (which night have a Web-based interface e.g. Yahoo, Hotmail) to read the letter.

The sending of the e-mail is instantaneous and the distance is not an issue as the receiver might be on the other side of the world. Physicians can use this the e-mail facility to communicate with patients or other physicians. Sending encrypted e-mail messages to a secured Internet mail server, where they can be retrieved by the recipients and decrypted, is probably the most secure method of protecting patient confidentiality and privacy.

Even though the rate of growth of the Internet has slowed down, more ways on how it can be applied to improve the delivery of healthcare are still being sought. A lot of the applications in place today are still very much in their infancy stage an healthcare providers can only look forward to getting more out of them when they come of age.



International Medical Informatics Association
American Medical Informatics Association
UK Health Informatics Society
Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society

Knowledge Center
Biomedical Informatics
Health Informatics
Healthcare Technologies
Hospital Information Systems
Healthcare Technologies Topics
The Data Protection Act 1998
The European Union Directive on Data Protection
Healthcare Technology Acquisition
Healthcare Technology Implementation
Enabling Healthcare Technologies
Emerging Healthcare Technologies

Last Updated: 10 August 2006.

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