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The Koop Scoop

By David Mendosa

Last Update: October 15, 1998

The scoop on C. Everett Koop, a former U.S. Surgeon General, is that his Web site seeks to empower America. In July, his San Antonio-based company—appropriately named Empower Health Corporation—went digital with his Dr. Koop's Community site.

“Diabetes is such a prominent disease.”

It's long been Dr. Koop's vision to empower the health care consumer, says Guy D. MacNeill, Empower America's vice president for marketing. "Giving the consumer more information leads to better outcomes with their physicians. And the Internet is the perfect medium for that, because health care information is changing so quickly and being able to reach a broad audience works out real well."

Dr. Koop, a spry 81 years old, plays an active role in developing the Web site, MacNeill says, and is certainly one of the most trusted advocates for public health in recent U.S. history. That's important, because the keyword for this site has to be trust.

Lack of trust is the problem with many of the 10,000 to 15,000 health-related Web sites, MacNeill says. Empower America commissioned a phone survey of 1,000 people and asked them if they trust the information on those sites.

"A quarter of them don't trust anything," he says. "When we asked them what would increase their trust, 60 percent said 'a recommendation by a physician.' The second most popular response was a recommendation by the Surgeon General, and the third was information that came from a trusted source, such as a medical institution or a college."

Providing free on-line health care information and resources, the site has 38 "health topics," but largely focuses on 10 resource centers. Not surprisingly the Diabetes Center was one of the first of these and is one of the most extensive.

The site's emphasis on diabetes comes naturally. MacNeill believes that people with diabetes more than those with any other disease have the responsibility for their own treatment. But the site's emphasis on diabetes is not because it lends itself more than other diseases toward empowerment.

"No," MacNeill says. "It is because diabetes is such a prominent disease. So many people have it that we want to give them information about it."

Impressively designed and formatted, the Diabetes Center includes all those features that bring people back again and again—a discussion group, a chat room, and the latest news. Still, none of these areas are especially active yet.

"All the news on the site right now is from Reuters," MacNeill says. "As we go forward we will have other sources and original articles."

He sees the site becoming a community. "We are very resource intensive right now, but we believe the site will evolve to be more of a community. People will come to the site, not so much looking for information but looking to share information—to talk to other people and give what we call experiential knowledge about how they are dealing with their condition on a daily basis."

They also hope that the site will become "a hub—the first stop on the Web for them to find good information." Because of this, they are working on rating the 10,000 to 15,000 health-related Web sites.

The only diabetes-related Web site rated so far on the Diabetes Center page is the American Diabetes Association. That's a really good start. 

The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.

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