, November 6, 1998 — Consider this recipe for success: Take one seasoned American hero, equip him with the latest Microsoft technology and let him triumph once again. John Glenn is not the only American legend back in the limelight this week. Back on earth, former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop has for years staked his personal integrity on low-tech prevention as a means to avoid the spiraling cost of treating disease in its advanced stages. Now, armed with some high-tech Microsoft tools, Koop is recruiting each of us to take more responsibility for our own health. Through the magic of the Internet and advanced technologies, individuals can join a community of peers in getting credible, well-researched information on pertinent health matters without having to qualify as part of a space shuttle team.
The command post for this effort is the www.drkoop.com Web site. Built on a powerful combination of Microsoft systems and applications software, the site is a treasure chest of health-care information and a forum for interactivity. “This is a very positive site that helps consumers,” says John D. Carpenter, worldwide healthcare industry manager at Microsoft. “Microsoft is proud to have provided the technology behind a site that clearly improves people’s lives.”
The site was developed by Empower Health Corp., based in Austin, Texas, which was formed by Koop to empower individuals with information to better manage their health and improve the patient-physician relationship. Affectionately known as “America’s Doctor,” Koop has been a part of the health-care community for nearly six decades. He served as a high-profile Surgeon General under Ronald Reagan, and brings with him the kind of name recognition and integrity that will lend the site instant trustworthiness. That’s important, says Lou Scalpati, Empower’s vice president of operations, because the Web already has some 15,000 health-care related sites, “many of which contain information that is suspect.”
The site, launched in July, covers more than 50 health-care topics ranging from simple allergies to complex health issues, says Guy MacNeill, Empower’s vice president of marketing. It also features interactive communities that offer support and enable individuals to have their questions answered by professionals as well as by contemporaries suffering from the same ailment. These interactive communities bring together registered users at the site to talk about a shared condition within a chat room or on a bulletin board. Interactive community members also receive Reuters health news feeds and links to related Web sites. Users can join a wide range of interactive communities including men’s and women’s health groups, mental health, addiction and recovery groups, and groups dealing with aging and cancer recovery.
Another key service of the drkoop.com community is an informed review of other health-care sites available on the Internet. Unlike a search engine, however, health-care sites submitted to Dr. Koop’s community undergo a thorough evaluation from health-care professionals before an annotated link (with a rating) is established. Empower Health’s MacNeill says the community will provide links to a variety of outside health-care sites on the Web, but each must meet strict standards before being accepted.
Consumers can also use the site to purchase prescription drugs online 24 hours per day, and in some cases get home delivery from a local pharmacy. Empower officials emphasize that no individual patient records in the pharmacy will be made available to drug companies or advertisers. “Like a newspaper publisher, we have established a clear line between our editorial content and advertising and other funding sources,” MacNeill notes.
Although there is a wealth of medical information stored at drkoop.com, that doesn’t mean users can heal themselves, MacNeill stresses. Just as desktop publishing software or HTML publishing tools do not replace a professional designer, drkoop.com does not make a doctor out of the patient. The site was designed to complement the work of personal health-care professionals, not replace them.
New to drkoop.com this week is the “Prevention Center,” an addition to the site’s Health and Wellness area. Prevention Center offers consumers comprehensive information on drug interactions, tackling tobacco addiction fitness, safety, nutrition and stress management. The drug interaction area of the site includes valuable information on deadly side effects that can occur when prescription drugs are used in combination with other drugs. For instance, taking aspirin can aggravate the blood thinning effect of Warfarin. “Adverse drug reactions represent the fourth highest cause of death in the U.S. today,” says MacNeill. “Consumers now have a resource to check for these adverse reactions and interactions online.”
Prevention Center also includes an extensive resource to help people stop smoking. An interactive feature, it includes information about the health effects of smoking, myriad options for smokers who are interested in, or in the process of quitting, online support groups, and online conferences where visitors can “hear” health professionals discuss issues related to smoking.
Behind the curtain of drkoop.com’s wizardry – and invisible to the site visitor – sits an impressive array of technology designed to generate information quickly and securely. Microsoft Windows NT-based Internet Information Services (IIS) servers are at the core of the operation. The software serves as a bridge to applications such as “Active Server Pages,” which facilitate the creation of HTML and Java applet effects on the server side, and SQL Server 7.0, a database that enables swift transaction processing. The server applications also employ Microsoft Active X technologies to enhance multi-media and other applets created by Web developers. “Once the decision was made to go with IIS in Windows NT, the remainder of the integration with Active Server Pages and SQL Server for transaction processing was easy,” says Empower’s Scalpati.
Microsoft’s Carpenter says Empower has gone to “great lengths to protect the privacy of its records through encryption and secure server technology.” At the heart of the site’s philosophy, according to Empower Health’s Scalpati, is the concept that “the consumer owns any information provided.” This means no information is exchanged with anyone – be they health-care provider, sponsors or even internal staff – without the approval of the individual. This concern for security extends not only to health-care records, but also to records of transactions on the site’s online drugstore. Scalpati says that Windows NT IIS’ high- level security, including 128-bit encryption, prompted the company’s use of Microsoft technologies.
The site is likely to become a model for the future of health-care information on the Internet, believes Carpenter – and the secure Windows NT-based IIS server and its complementary technologies will enhance the power of such sites, he adds. That is why Microsoft has opted to promote the site to developers of similar sites.