Web has vast resources – and potential for waste

Learn how to surf efficiently

By David Hutchinson, RN

University of California Davis, Medical Center


If you’re unfamiliar with the Internet, give it a try. You’ll probably find it makes your work easier and more productive. There are dozens of books and magazines that contain the basics about getting started on the Internet. Once you get acclimated and develop a degree of proficiency, you’ll be amazed at the array of information available on the Net. Most of it’s free, but beware: The Net is seductive. There’s so much out there, you could spend too much of your workday surfing. Set aside an hour or so each day or week to practice and explore. As you become familiar with sites, you’ll be able to check updates and new items more quickly and efficiently.

View EKGs or watch a cholecystectomy

The World Wide Web contains archival and up-to-the-minute electronic publications, including graphics. Traveling between one and another is accomplished by hypertext — a concept unique to the Web.

The Web is fast becoming a source for nontext information as well. Some Web sites contain files that provide sound, animation, and video. In practical terms, that means there are places to go that will allow you to hear fetal sounds, view an EKG, or watch a cholecystectomy.

A feature on the Web that’s generating interest among health care professionals is the chat room, the text version of a telephone conference call, where you can send messages to others present. Unlike e-mail, which arrives in a recipient’s computer mailbox and may not be read for hours or days, you can usually expect an immediate response to a chat room message. One nursing-related site focuses on the use of computers in nursing (http://www.edoc.com/ cin/). Another is a general chat room called NursingNet (http://myspot.com/cgi-bin/ nic-cgi/chat2.pl).

To access a Web site, you need to know its address, or uniform resource locator (URL). Unlike an e-mail address, which pinpoints an individual located at an institution or company, the URL usually contacts the organization itself in a different section of the Net.

Help in getting there

Search engines help you locate the information you need. Some are general purpose engines, such as Yahoo, InfoSeek, AltaVista, and Lycos — but even they can focus on the health sciences with a few extra mouse clicks.

To connect to a search engine, type in its Web address as you would to connect to any other Web site. You’ll see a page that contains a blank box where you type in the description of what you’re looking for. Most of the search engine sites also have a help button you can click for tips on how to conduct your search. You’re then shown a list of sites for that topic, each one with an underlined hypertext link you can click on to go to that site. (For a listing, see p. 162.)

Newsgroups — worldwide electronic bulletin boards where you can post questions — provide yet another Internet resource for quality professionals. There are more than 15,000 newsgroups, several hundred devoted to health. They’re organized into hierarchies by subject, and each may have hundreds of separate discussion groups. A list of newsgroups is available at http://sunsite.unc.edu/usenet-i/ hier-s/master.html.

Your message to a newsgroup could reach around the world in a few days. Each message stays up on the bulletin board for a few weeks, then is removed to make room for new ones. When you want to read the messages in a newsgroup, you highlight a specific group, and your Internet software connects to another computer that houses the messages and displays the posted messages on your screen.

Recommended Reading

Hutchinson D. The Internet Workbook for Health Professionals. Sacramento, CA: New Wind Publishing; 1997. (http://NewWindPub.com)

Hutchinson D, Hogarth M. An Internet Guide for the Health Professional. 2nd ed. Sacramento, CA: New Wind Publishing; 1996.

Edwards M. The Internet for Nurses and Allied Health Professionals. New York: Springer-Verlag; 1995.

Linden T. Dr. Tom Linden’s Guide to Online Medicine. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1995.

McKenzie BC. Medicine and the Internet: Introducing Online Resources and Terminology. New York: Oxford University Press; 1996.

Hannah K, Hall M, eds. Nursing Informatics. 2nd ed. New York: Springer-Verlag; 1995.

Saba V, McCormick K. Essentials of Computers for Nurses. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1996.