Oct. 10, 2000 DALLAS - Oct. 11, 2000 - Secure Internet sites could become an important tool for medical research, according to an article by two UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas physicians.
In an article in the Oct. 11 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Wesley Marshall, clinical instructor of internal medicine, and Dr. Robert Haley, chief of epidemiology at UT Southwestern, outline how physicians could gather research data more quickly, efficiently and easily by using a secure Web site.
"Up to now medical researchers have been reluctant to collect research data via the Internet because of the fear of violating confidentiality," Marshall said. "Recent security advances such as data encryption and computer certification now make it safe to use the vast Internet resources and a standard graphic interface in place of older, rather archaic methods. It's too powerful a tool to ignore."
The article carefully outlines steps in the process of creating such a secure system for collecting sensitive medical research data. The data collection must be continuously monitored, information must be encrypted and communication between server and client computers carefully controlled.
"Using the Internet, medical researchers working at different centers can collect and analyze data much faster and cheaper with the same level of security," Marshall said.
Haley, professor of internal medicine, used such a data-collection method for collecting data in a large epidemiological study involving several sites throughout the country. Entering data into a secure Internet site allows collaborators anywhere in the world to enter data through identical computer screens, as long as they are authorized through the security system.
The system works like any Internet site, except that security measures keep it from being accessed by the general public or tampered with by computer hackers.
"Normally on the Internet, a Web site's information is not encrypted," Marshall said. "But we studied the many security techniques used by banks and corporations currently doing secure business and credit card transactions over the Internet, added more security levels for medical applications and described a step-by-step recipe for building it."
Setting up such a secure medical Web site costs between $20,000 and $35,000 depending on the needs of the research project. That cost is significantly less than older methods, which required modem, dedicated telephone lines, computer network managers or complicated paper filing systems.
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