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SciPICH Publications IconWired for Health and Well-Being: The Emergence of Interactive Health Communication

Editors: Thomas R. Eng, David H. Gustafson

Suggested Citation: Science Panel on Interactive Communication and Health. Wired for Health and Well-Being: the Emergence of Interactive Health Communication.  Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, US Government Printing Office, April 1999.

Download in PDF format:  [Entire Document] [References]


Embargoed until April 28, 1999

Contact: Damon Thompson 202-205-1842




Washington D.C. On April 28th, 1999, the Science Panel on Interactive Communication and Health, an independent body convened by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), released its final report, Wired for Health and Well-Being: The Emergence of Interactive Health Communication. The report, a landmark analysis of the emerging field of interactive health communication, identifies specific opportunities for reducing risks and expanding benefits associated with these new technologies.

"Emerging communication tools, such as the Internet, can help us spread the prevention message and promote health in ways that previous generations could only dream of," stated U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher. In the foreword to the report, he wrote, "The rapid development of new technologies, coupled with the explosive growth of the Internet, brings opportunities for people to find interactive information, education, and support that is tailored to their needs and preferences."

The Science Panel was convened to examine the potential impact of health communication technology on the health of the public and to accelerate its appropriate development, use, and evaluation. The Panel coined the term "interactive health communication" (IHC) to refer to the use of information or communication technology to access or provide health information, guidance, and support. IHC includes health-related Web sites and non-networked software applications.

The Science Panel proposed four broad strategies for ensuring that IHC will enhance health and healthcare: 1) strengthen the evaluation and quality of applications, 2) improve basic knowledge and understanding of IHC, 3) enhance capacity of people to develop and use IHC, and 4) improve access to IHC for all populations. They concluded that IHC has great potential to improve health but may also cause harm. Their report, Wired for Health and Well-Being, outlines the potential for inaccurate, inappropriate, or poor design to result in harmful health outcomes.

"To date, there has been little evaluation or quality control of IHC because applications have developed faster than theory and assessment tools," stated Science Panel Chair, David Gustafson, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "With so many consumers relying on health information on the Web, we need to ensure that we do no harm."

"This consensus report is a clarion call to all stakeholders - application developers, consumers, health professionals and healthcare organizations, policymakers, and others - to work together and leverage the potential power of IHC to improve health, reduce health disparities, and contain healthcare costs," stated Science Panel Study Director Thomas Eng, VMD, MPH.

A central area of concern outlined in the report is the lack of public disclosure of information for consumers to judge the credibility of the health information they are viewing and to make informed decisions. With other consumer products, such as processed foods and cars, essential information about the identity of the producer and content of the product are routinely disclosed. The Science Panel proposes that application developers and sponsors routinely post such information on their Web sites or other applications, and offers an "evaluation reporting template" and "disclosure statement," available free at, to help implement this practice.

"Consumers should be informed shoppers when it comes to the Internet," stated Mary Jo Deering, PhD, Director of Telehealth at the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, HHS. She pointed out the availability of pre-selected quality online health information resources for consumers, including information on fraud and quackery, at, the federal government's health portal.

The Science Panel is comprised of 14 nationally recognized experts from a wide variety of disciplines related to interactive technologies and health: medicine, human-computer interaction, public health, communication sciences, educational technology, and health promotion. The panel conducted its analyses over two and a half years and published six articles that recently appeared in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association (see press kit).

The Science Panel and its Web site at are managed by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), HHS. The entire report, adapted for Web viewing, is posted at The public can order a copy for a $10 handling fee by calling the ODPHP's Communication Support Center at 1-800-336-4797.



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Comments:   Updated: 05/20/08