TITLE: Healthfinder

ACCESS: http://www.healthfinder.com

On April 28, 1998, a year after its inception, healthfinder revealed new features, improved design, and a .com domain. There are many noteworthy and award-winning changes since the Internet Scout Report coverage of April 18, 1997.

The new design better meets the site's mission of being a "gateway consumer health and human services information web site from the United States Government." The expanded site covers roughly one thousand subjects--an increase of nearly 3,126% from its debut. The Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion maintains the site in collaboration with other federal agencies.

The comprehensive selection policy encompasses all the elements of a standard library selection policy and can be read on the site. The resources are added in a process slightly analogous to a standing order: developers do not evaluate each resource, but rather evaluate the organization producing the material. Once the organization is evaluated favorably, their material is automatically accepted for inclusion. These organizations are primarily government agencies and "other organizations serving the public good," and must be able to respond to information requests from users. There are provisions for removing sites and suggesting others for consideration.

Essential to the "gateway" function is the ease of reaching resources scattered across the internet. To do this, the maintainers place each resource into one of six categories on the homepage. "Perennial favorites" are only one click away in the "Hot Topics" list; "News" offers material from press releases and links to sites featuring health news; "Smart Choices" emphasizes healthy lifestyles; "More Tools" provides further resources including some commercial and library resources as well as contact information for help groups and health organizations; "Just for You" selects items by audience age; and "About Us" contains the structure, scope, and selection policies for the site. There is a search function for the site as well as a comprehensive alphabetical listing of topics.

Search results and subject resources display in a list by title, followed by a list of relevant organizations. Adjacent to each title is a "details" choice that displays a summary of the resource: URL, sponsoring agency, description, and a pop-down, searchable list of related keywords. The presence of a tiny U.S. flag indicates which are products of federal agencies.

To compare coverage and gauge ease-of-use, the author conducted a simple spot check using three federally-produced resources from the "Hot Topics" category. Three other web search engines were searched for the titles: the GPO's Government Information Locator Service, a simple Yahoo search, and the first 80 hits retrieved by Yahoo via AltaVista searches, and Infoseek. Two of the sites were unique to healthfinder and one was badly parsed into many separate files by both Yahoo/AltaVista and Infoseek.

The quality of resources, governance by a selection policy, positive tone, and cheerful, functional design earns healthfinder a bookmark on any computer. Consumers of all ages as well as health professionals can rely on it for rapid access to data, news , events, organizational contacts, and publications.

Kristina L. Anderson
University of Alabama
kanderso@bama.ua.edu


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