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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 08/07/02
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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Universities Demonstrate Value of Federal Technology Opportunities Program

Cincinnati--In 1994, the US Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration initiated the Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program, now known as the Technology Opportunities Program (TOP). TOP provides matching grants to a wide range of nonprofit organizations, jumpstarting many valuable programs throughout the country, enhancing communities through information technology and bringing Americans into the information age. Despite the positive impact it has had on schools, libraries, hospitals, public safety entities and state and local governments, this critical program is slated for elimination in the Federal Budget for the fiscal year 2003.

One very successful program made possible by TOP is NetWellness (netwellness.org), provided jointly by the University of Cincinnati (UC), The Ohio State University (OSU) and Case Western Reserve University (CWRU). NetWellness is a consumer health Web service supplying about one million consumers per year with scientifically-sound and unbiased health information from health professionals at the three partner universities. The service, named "best health Web site" by Forbes.com, began in 1994 with a $375,000 grant from TOP to UC.

"NetWellness would not have been possible without the support of TOP," notes Roger Guard, assistant senior vice president and chief information officer at the UC Medical Center, who conceptualized the NetWellness program. "It is crucial that TOP continue to catalyze programs that the private sector is not geared for, but that provide so much value directly to the community."

Surveys about NetWellness show that the community values the service for providing health information from university faculty who are leaders in their field and because it guarantees confidentiality and personal privacy. The popular "Ask an Expert" service has, to date, responded to almost 19,000 questions on more than 45 topics.

"NetWellness enables us to help people better manage their health by translating our nationally recognized expertise directly to those who need it," says Donald Harrison, MD, senior vice president and provost of health affairs for the UC Medical Center. "After the TOP program's initial support, NetWellness grew rapidly to be a state-wide service in collaboration with CWRU and OSU, Ohio's other biomedical research universities. Without federal support, valuable programs like NetWellness will never have the chance to flourish."

"There is still a need for programs like TOP. While the digital divide has narrowed, it has not closed," says Guard. "We are urging everyone who has benefited from a TOP sponsored program, such as NetWellness, or who understands the importance of continued federal support for such community-level programs, to contact his or her congressman or senator and voice concern over its proposed elimination."



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