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Year : 1996  |  Volume : 44  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 189-190

Information systems and ophthalmology


Correspondence Address:
B Rajeev

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

PMID: 9251262

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How to cite this article:
Rajeev B. Information systems and ophthalmology. Indian J Ophthalmol 1996;44:189-90

How to cite this URL:
Rajeev B. Information systems and ophthalmology. Indian J Ophthalmol [serial online] 1996 [cited 2022 Aug 15];44:189-90. Available from: https://www.ijo.in/text.asp?1996/44/4/189/24560

There is no denying that advances in technology and scientific knowledge have had a great impact on modern life. The last few decades have seen a phenomenal growth in information technology and molecular biology, both of which promise to further revolutionize science and life into the next century. While molecular biology has already made substantial inroads into both diagnostic and therapeutic medicine, information technology is now poised to make a big impact on the way we practice medicine. Ophthalmology is no exception to this and in many ways, is already in the forefront of such a change.

The reasons for such a dramatic change are not difficult to seek and are probably best exemplified by ophthalmology. This medical specialty has now furcated into numerous subspecialties, each with its own explosion of new and ever increasing information. For an average ophthalmologist it is an arduous and unpleasant task to sift through this information and to retain at least what is clinically relevant. Combine this situation with the revolution in computer and communication technology and we have our answer.

Until now the dissemination of information has been the prerogative of the print, and audio-visual media. The ability of computer based electronic publishing to package this information in a multimedia format (print, video and audio) along with simplified storage, retrieval, and dissemination techniques, has ensured a gradual shift from mailed journals, textbooks and scientific meetings to electronic publishing. Electronic versions of ophthalmic or medical literature such as the Medline database are prime examples. Millions of articles from more than 3500 medical journals are available on a set of CD ROM's. Many of the ophthalmology textbooks and journals are now published on CD ROM's also. With the advent of multimedia, in addition to images (figures), there is an opportunity for incorporating sound and motion in the electronic version. In image intensive literature such as ophthalmic pathology, the electronic version scores over the hard copy material in terms of the number of images that can be incorporated without increasing costs. Other advantages include the compact portable size of the disc, ability to enlarge and view images, easy cross reference to chapters or paragraphs elsewhere in the text, and round the clock accessibility.

Another significant advance has been in the field of communication technology. Information can be productive only if it can be rapidly communicated in an orderly manner and this is now possible through the internet - a network of computers spawned over the world by linking numerous computers or hundreds of computer networks. The internet features various modes of communication as well as information sharing, including electronic mail (instant communication from the desktop with ability to communicate in multimedia), world wide discussion groups to share ideas and knowledge, newsgroup servers, placing and retrieving of files from one computer to another (ftp), and the latest and most popular - world wide web, which uses the internet to find and view multimedia information from computers around the world.

Ophthalmology specific information can now be accessed through the internet. This includes existing discussion groups or forums on various topics such as clinical alerts, ophthalmic photography, color vision research, oculoplastics, medical images, retinitis pigmentosa, and most of the subspecialties including cornea, retina, and glaucoma. Ophthalmologists can share experiences and even get medical advice by e-mail especially for those located in remote areas. Using the WWW one can access information from web sites maintained by ophthalmology societies to disseminate information to their members and to the public in general. Web sites can include case discussions, grand rounds, news, activities, abstracts of meetings and journals, full articles of journals which are already in print (paid access), outcomes data, clinical alerts, patient handouts, slides of interesting cases, and public information material about eye care. Latest additions include publishing of journals (internet digital journals) and even conduction of scientific meetings via the internet.

It is obvious that such an easy access to information will make a qualitative difference in eye care delivery. However this information scenario is not as utopic as it appears and has its own pitfalls - particularly the loss of authenticity and editorial control over the available information. The data available is not subject to peer review and it is left to the recipient to distinguish scientific infromation from anecdotal data or just news. Also, until now photographic images were incontrovertible proof but, such images can now be easily altered and evidence can be distorted. Another potential problem is the unrestricted public access to information on ophthalmology, often of variable quality and relevance. Patients will agreeably get information on prognosis, management and treatment options but meeting their expectations (based on such information) will not be easy and ophthalmologists may be exposed to more frequent litigation. In such a situation, subspecialty academic groups will have to play a more active role in defining practice guidelines by consensus.

Despite this, the potential benefits far outweigh the drawbacks and these information systems will continue to develop along with some control mechanisms. Already we are looking at the next era of telemedicine and merging of television and computers - where a single wire coming into a clinic, home, or office will deliver phone, videophone, internet and television service.


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