Computer bulletin board lets your fingers do the walking to health information Service offered at no charge HOWARD COUNTY HEALTH

April 06, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Are you new to the area and looking for a doctor?

Are you a health-care worker searching for a job?

Are you interested in reading more about allergies, diets, cancer or parenting?

Peter and Marie Celano have your number. All you need is their's and a computer.

The Columbia couple recently launched Health Information Network, a computer bulletin board that offers a broad range of health data at no charge.

The network is aimed at the lay person with its calendar of support groups, information about doctors and hospitals, and up-to-date news on medical issues. But it also offers job listings for medical professionals, and reviews of books about medicine.

Unlike general computer bulletin boards such as Prodigy and CompuServe that charge a fee, the Celanos said they wanted to create a free, specialized data base for area residents.

"We thought we would take a different approach," said Ms. Celano. "We wanted to find a service that benefits the community."

The couple said the data base is easy to use, requiring only a computer and modem. Just type in the subject you want and HIN will give you the information, Ms. Celano said.

"We're really trying to make this understandable for everyone," said Mr. Celano, who would like to install the network in the Howard County Public Library.

Joyce Demmitt, head of information services for Howard County Public Library, said she needs to learn more about the service before considering it for the library.

But Columbia resident Joel Broida has already fallen in love with the service.

"It's a good resource," said Mr. Broida, a former commission officer for the Health Care Financing Administration in Woodlawn. "It's really a lay resource to find illnesses, doctors, hospitals, to ask questions."

Mr. Broida said the system is simple and is compatible with any computer.

"It's easy to use. You bounce back and forth between different components. It's good not only for the elderly, but for lots of people," said Mr. Broida, now a private health care consultant for the elderly.

The 11-week-old service is receiving about 200 calls a week from computer users in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, the couple said. Many of the callers are people who use other computer bulletin boards and discovered HIN through that network or through friends who also use bulletin boards.

The Celanos said they are financing the program out of their own pockets until the data base generates about 1,000 calls a week and can be financed by advertising.

The Celanos each hold other, full-time jobs: he works for a computer software firm in Rockville, she is a marketing coordinator for the Columbia Design Collective. But they are optimistic about the future of their new venture.

"Our goal is to make the network self-sufficient and expand people's knowledge," Mr. Celano said.

Currently, users can find information on about 200 hospitals and their specialties by punching in the hospital's name, area code or zip code.

Also available is information on sexually transmitted diseases, acquired immune deficiency syndrome and women's health. Users can message others, read movie and book reviews on medicine, and even take part in surveys.

The Celanos are expanding the service as they're able. Within two weeks, the couple plans to have a list of doctors that can be found through medical specialties, telephone area codes, zip codes and last names. They also plan to have information on different types of illnesses.

Eventually, users will be able to message doctors. By May, a Howard County dentist will be answering questions from people who leave messages, Ms. Celano said. Plans also are under way to allow users to buy modems, books and videotapes through the computer.

Cynthia Lipsitz, director of the Personal Health Bureau, said the system would enable public health officials to alert residents about clinics or vaccination programs.

"It's something that we can get information out on quickly," Dr. Lipsitz said.

The Health Information Network number is 381-4256.

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