Transforming Health Care Through the Net

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The statistics on women and the Internet are telling: women comprise 45 per cent of Canadians online and health-related information remains one of the three most popular online topics. Canadians also report that it’s important to receive their health information from a doctor or a trusted medical organization. (Cyber Dialogue, 2001)

Keeping in mind that Canadian consumers are increasingly reliant on the web for health-care information, the Women’s Health Matters web site (www.womenshealthmatters.ca) stands apart by relying on the knowledge and expertise of a major teaching hospital – Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre. The consumer health site features the latest information, news and research findings on women’s health, diseases and lifestyle. Launched in January 2000, the site provides reliable, evidence-based and up-to-date information on a variety of topics and currently receives more than 60,000 visitors per month.

Building on Sunnybrook and Women’s expertise in the area of women’s health, www.womenshealthmatters.ca aims to combine the high standards and expertise of health-care professionals with the accessibility of the Internet. Virtual Health Centres provide information on topics such as hormone replacement therapy, birth control and sexual health, pregnancy, cancer, cardiovascular health and osteoporosis. Each centre includes comprehensive information on a range of topics such as medical description, diagnosis, prevention, treatment, a glossary and Frequently Asked Questions. All information placed on the site undergoes a rigorous review process by women’s health experts at Sunnybrook & Women’s.

Initially an information resource for women and their families with newsworthy items added several times a week, the site added a new interactive level called Le Club in November 2001. By providing an online support network, Le Club provides a virtual meeting place for Canadian women to interact with not only each other, but also with reliable women’s health experts.

Le Club allows women to share their stories, experiences and questions through an online connection with other women. The goal of this www.womenshealthmatters.ca feature is to have women draw knowledge and inspiration from each other’s personal experiences in the area of women’s health. Any woman using the Internet can join Le Club and participate in a range of discussion groups, including those on menopause, environmental health and breast cancer, which are all moderated by Sunnybrook & Women’s health professionals. Ask the Expert is an online feature where women can discuss and get answers directly from women’s health experts on the issues that matter most to them. A recent Ask the Expert session, “Confused about hormone replacement therapy?” that was hosted by Dr. Jennifer Blake, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre, drew a lot of attention from concerned women.

Geographical considerations also come into play. By promoting the web site to community partners, women who cannot easily visit Sunnybrook & Women’s in person can be referred to the interactive features via many existing health contacts.

“Making women’s health information as accessible as possible for Canadian women is our goal,” says Sheryl Mitchell, Director of Women’s Health Partnerships at Sunnybrook and Women’s. “Our affiliation with Sunnybrook & Women’s and the Centre for Research in Women’s Health ensures that all of the information published on www.womenshealthmatters.ca is developed, reviewed and approved by women’s health experts.”

In addition to accessibility, special emphasis is placed on Canadian web resources and Canadian women’s health organizations. Within the Canadian health-care system, www.womenshealthmatters.ca has gained a reputation as a trusted medical source. The site has been honored several times, including: mention as an “outstanding special interest site” in Sympatico’s Netlife magazine; a StudyWeb Academic Excellence Award as a resource for students and teachers; reviewed as “must see information” by the Ontario Women’s Health Network; receipt of a Golden Globe Web Award and also featured in Chatelaine’s Essential Guide to the Web and on www.chatelaine.com.

www.womenshealthmatters.ca and www.femmesensante.ca, a French version of the web site, are just two of the Women’s Health Matters products. Sunnybrook & Women’s also runs Women’s Health Matters Forum and Expo which will be held on January 17 and 18, 2003 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Information about the Forum and Expo is available at www.womenshealthmatters.ca.