Stethoscope on keyboard

Robert Pretlow

The World Congress on the Internet in Medicine, or MEDNET, is the annual conference of the Society for the Internet in Medicine (SIM), and will meet for its tenth year in Prague this winter. The congress is a network of healthcare providers, developers, and users sharing the latest research developments and up-to-date tools in medicine, healthcare, and the Internet.

The MedNet congresses have always focused on "real world" medical applications. The goal has been to find an answer to the question: "In what ways does medicine actually benefit from the exploding Internet technology, beyond gadgetry, and focusing explicitly on the benefit to the patient?" The conference consists of tutorials and hands-on workshops, keynote speeches, and presentations of technical papers.

Recently, the congress has begun exploring controversial issues such as online care of patients where there is no face-to-face relationship or a previous provider-patient relationship does not exist, as well as online prescribing.

Speakers at the American Medical Association have labeled online medicine as “bad medicine”; however, there is no data that online medicine is either good or bad. The World Congress on the Internet in Medicine hopes to stimulate studies on these controversial topics. A section on the online provider is planned for future congresses.

Another hot topic under discussion is licensure and regulatory issues that stem from a patient seeking help from a website or online physician. Is this there a difference between a patient physically traveling to a clinic in another state or country, and the patient electronically ‘traveling’ to the website or online physician?

It has been argued that the locale in which the physician or website resides, not the patient, should have licensure jurisdiction.

The most important barrier to adoption of health technology is lack of reimbursement for Internet healthcare in most countries. The World Congress on the Internet in Medicine tries to stimulate studies to validate cost-effectiveness of Internet medical applications. Bridging the ‘digital divide’ is an important aspect of this, too.

The scientific syllabus of MedNet has included topics such as the impact of the Internet on the care and follow up of patients, online support communities, internet anonymity with stigmatized conditions, and the quality of medical content on the web.

Seminars have also focused on use of the internet for patients and consumers; how to manage one’s own health record, disease management and medical education on demand.

Other subjects covered include:

  • Patient self-care and self-management via the web
  • Intervention websites
  • Liability issues, eHealth risk management, and website disclaimers.
  • Bioethics aspects of the Internet in health
  • Telemedicine, present status and projects
  • Impact of the Internet in Continued Medical Education
  • Use of Internet in management and health administration
  • Use of Internet in clinical multicenter trials.

The Society for the Internet in Medicine and MedNet also have an official free journal, the Journal of Medical Internet Research ( JMIR was founded in 1999 and was the first international scientific peer-reviewed journal on all aspects of research, information and communication in the healthcare field using Internet and Intranet-related technologies. The Journal can be accessed free of charge on the web, electronic content alerts can be subscribed to by sending an email to

The Society for the Internet in Medicine, the organizer of MedNet, is a Charity registered in England and Wales and a Company limited by guarantee in the United Kingdom. Membership of the Society is open to all those with an interest in the activities described above.

The first three MedNet Conferences were held in Brighton and London, and the 4th took place inHeidelberg. Subsequent congresses have been held in places as diverse as Brussels, Amsterdam, Geneva and Udine in Italy.

MedNet conference in 2004 in Buenos Aires

The international event has transformed the Internet into an important tool for the promotion of health. More than 300 health and IT professionals from 29 countries attended the 2004 congress in Buenos Aires (above).

The next congress – the tenth – will take place in Prague, on December 4-7th 2005. More information can be found here: The deadline for submission of abstracts to the conference is 1st June.