Globe and Mail

Website to give health facts, expose quacks, Rock says

Ottawa plans to spend $32-million over three years to improve the network, which already has 5,000 Net links

KRISTA FOSS
Health Reporter
The Globe and Mail
Friday, November 26, 1999

A new Internet health information service that will let Net-surfing Canadians know whether a Website is "selling a health solution or snake oil" was launched yesterday in Toronto by Health Minister Allan Rock.

Over the next three years, his ministry will pour $32-million into the Canadian Health Network (http://www.canadian-health-network.ca ), which Health Canada developed in partnership with 400 of the country's most established health organizations. With the goal of providing "health information you can trust," the Website is organized into 26 major health topics and has links to more than 5,000 Internet-based resources that meet criteria for credibility set out by the network's countrywide advisers.

Mr. Rock said he expects the site to grow into "the world's most complete and reliable storehouse of health information -- and it will be Canadian."

The site has been available on the Internet for five months before its official launch today, and has already had 1.8 million visits.

"It's fun surfing the Web," Mr. Rock said yesterday. "But when you look for a piece of health information, it's hard to tell if you're looking for a wave in that surf or a needle in a haystack."

According to the most recent Berger Monitor, which polls Canadians about their health habits, as many as one in five Canadians have used the Internet once in the past six months to seek health information.

"But when you ask Canadians who they trust in terms of always giving reliable information, pharmacists rank No. 1, followed by doctors," said Earl Berger, managing director of the Berger Monitor. "The Internet gets the lowest score."

Certainly, the need for more credible information on the Internet has been a hot topic, especially among health professionals. Canadian Pediatric Society president Paul Munk, who attended yesterday's launch, said it is not unusual for patients to show up at his office for a 15-minute visit with 30 pages of downloaded health information they want to discuss.

"I know that if you're going to look at the Canadian Health Network, you're going to get accurate information," Dr. Munk said.

Still, while the network will remain a "not-for-profit" service, executive director Brian Hayday said the service will be open to "partnerships" with the private sector, including, in the near future, large pharmaceutical firms.

Copyright © 1999 Globe Information Services