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The source of that information is still a concern, according to OHIH director general William Pascal.

"As Canadians – concerned with maintaining a healthy lifestyle or caring for family members – attempt to sift through the mountain of health tips and ‘professional’ advice bombarding them in the media and on the Net, they’re finding it increasing difficult to sort solid, reliable health information they can trust from promotional pitches trying to sell them a product or a cure," he says.

"That’s where Health Canada is playing a lead role, in ensuring that Canadians of all ages have access to accurate, up-to-date, health information."

In Canada, where many rural areas have a profound shortage of health care providers, the Internet is also being looked at as a way to increase the level of services offered.

To this end, the federal government is spending millions of dollars each year to upgrade the Health Canada Web site at www.hc-sc.gc.ca to provide more and better information to Canadians.

In 1999, Health Canada published Canada Health Infoway: Paths to Better Health, which laid out a framework for the development of a health information highway.

At the last meeting between provincial premiers and the prime minister on Sept. 11, the federal government earmarked an unprecedented $500 million over the next five years for the development of health information systems.

The Office of Health and the Information Highway is the government agency that was charged with bringing the information and communications technology in Canada’s health system into the 21 st century.

While nothing groundbreaking has been achieved for Canadians as of yet in the form of a comprehensive and centralized Web site for health information, some new innovations are on the way, including electronic health records, which allow doctors to access and add to your personal health record via the Internet. The Telehealth service, an Internet service that doctors use to exchange information and to post information that’s absolutely crucial, such as health epidemics and product recalls, is also being boosted.

The health information centre that’s currently in the works will provide clear and comprehensive information to Canadians, according to Pascal.

"Eventually, this electronic information network will also include local directories of health services, report cards on health programs and services, and assessments of treatment options that Canadians can access at the click of a mouse," says Pascal.

Given time, the Web could actually save the ailing Medicare program by giving people the tools to stay healthy, and an avenue to consult health and medical information without visiting the doctor.

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