One of the most frustrating aspects of both the Internet and individual Web sites is trying to find what you are after. But for those in the medical profession, time is often in short supply.
To address this, the Medical Society of Nova Scotia designed a portal, DoctorsNS.com, to help speed up access to medical information for thousands of its members.
"I don't think a week goes by that I am not consulting it," said Stewart Cameron, a family physician who teaches at the QE2 Health Sciences Centre in Halifax. The site's search technology is excellent, he said.
"I find the searching very easy to do (and) it never takes me more than about 30 seconds, once I am in, to find what I want."
To find the information they are after, doctors can rarely rely on a single book or journal. What DoctorsNS.com has done is consolidated most of what they needed under one roof. The site gives physicians access to more than 400 journals and textbooks.
"We are providing a very rich series of clinically relevant textbooks, journals, research papers to help them in their clinical decision making," said Steve Anderson, director of IT at the Medical Society of Nova Scotia, Halifax.
Cameron concurs. "The quality of the material is excellent, it is all first rate and extraordinarily comprehensive," he said. In fact Cameron rates the value of the site so highly that he has included it in his orientation of new medical residents.
"It is one of the first things that I teach them and [we] even evaluate them on the use of it."
The medical society went to Halifax-based xwave to build DoctorsNS.com. xwave set up focus groups and design meetings to find out what the doctors were looking for and how they were going to use the site, said Chad MacDonald, delivery manager with xwave.
"It was really important that the physicians were involved from day one to get their buy in," he said.
It took about 16 months to go from vision to portal, of which the last four months were spent actually building the site. The interface is an xwave build, sitting on an end-to-end Microsoft Corp. solution, MacDonald said. xwave used ASP.Net to design the site, which is running on SQL server running Windows 2000. The e-mail system uses Microsoft Exchange, the Web service runs on IIS and Microsoft Index Server forms the basis of the search engine.
The choice to go with Microsoft "came down to manageability for the medical society," MacDonald said. xwave also provides a 24 x 7 help desk in both English and French, though the site is, for the time being, in English only.
The servers are hosted by xwave but the medical society's administrators can access, change and add content as they see fit.
Though many physicians use the site to get specific medical information, there are other reasons for them to visit. DoctorsNS.com contains links that can help doctors connect to other medical experts. In a province with many practitioners living in rural areas, this was an important factor. Doctors can also post a question on the general conference board in order to find an answer to a particularly difficult or unusual medical question.
Though the site went live three years ago, a re-launch is scheduled for Feb. 18, when several new features will be added, including the ability for doctors to view their own billing records. In addition, they will be able to buy surgical and office supplies on the site. Access is gained through a user name and password.
One functionality Cameron would like to see added is wireless access.
He uses his PDA to access drug database information, such as counter indications (two drugs that can't be prescribed together such as Viagra and some heart medication). "That has reduced, somewhat, my reliance on DoctorsNS.com," Cameron said. "Clearly everything is going wireless so (wireless) PDA access to the online databases is the next big step."
The site is used regularly and consistently by 76 percent of the 3,000 medical society members, Anderson said. Ninety-four percent of the province's doctors have Internet access at home, at work or both. All Nova Scotia physicians are society members so there is no additional cost to users other than their annual dues.
"One of our goals was to try and use it as a glue to bring the (medical) communities closer together (and) giving them access to things that they would not normally have access to," Anderson said.