The Merck Corporation is definitely setting a high standard in the area of providing useful and reliable information to health care providers for corporate home pages. This is not to imply that the site is always unbiased. However, the provision of the full text of the "Merck Manual" free of charge to Internet users is a significant contribution to the health care community and, in a more limited way, to health care consumers. The "Merck Manual" has long been a major print reference work for health care providers, providing textbook-style discussion of a wide range of medical disorders and common clinical procedures and describing standard therapies, laboratory tests, and pharmacology. The "Merck Manual" on-line is the highlight of the site's publications section and includes the full text and index of the print publication, including illustrations. My only disappointments were the large number of pages that had to be traversed to use the resource effectively and the failure to take advantage of any of the enhancements hypertext could support such as cross referencing or the provision of supplemental information. Also, at least during the week I was accessing the site, the search function was not working properly and could not be evaluated. Like the print publication, this resource is not designed for the general health care consumer, and the language of the manual is quite technical.
In addition to information about the company's publications for health professionals, the site includes a developing section on disease information for the general public. The information currently available here is quite limited and seems focused on conditions for which standard therapy frequently includes treatment with the company's products. Although these products are not mentioned by name, the bias is quite clear. So far information on a few diseases preventable by vaccination are available along with some information on cholesterol.
Another highlight of the site, the research section describes the company's international fellows program, discusses the general interests of many of the organizations researchers, and details the company's extensive program providing seminar speakers. The site also includes a smaller product information section that, at the moment, is largely populated by recent press releases rather than detailed information on the huge range of products that Merck manufactures. Some information for investors is also prominently available from the home page. Although clearly still in development, this corporate site reflects a refreshing sense of community responsibility and already provides a wealth of valuable health information.
Karla Lynn Hahn
Aug 6 1996