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New state Web site links Georgians to health information
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Renea Steele of the Georgia Department of Community Health talks about protecting medical privacy online.

Every day, millions of Americans search for health information on Internet sites such as WebMD. But until now, there hasn’t been a site that’s specific to Georgia.

In mid-December, the Georgia Department of Community Health launched, a comprehensive source for consumers.

"We like to call it a one-stop shop," said Renea Steele, director of DCH’s office of health information technology and transparency. "You’d have to go to several different sites to get all this information, and you’d have difficulty making comparisons." compiles databases from a number of sources, with the goal of giving consumers almost everything they need in one location.

"Prior to developing the Web site, we held consumer forums around the state to get people’s input," said Steele. "People told us they wanted information from a trusted source, so it’s a government Web site with absolutely no ads."

DCH started working on the project in 2006, and obtained a two-year, $3.9 million federal Medicaid Transformation Grant to pay for design, development and startup costs.

At about the same time, the Georgia Hospital Association was launching a Web site that compares quality data from Georgia’s hospitals.

"Shortly after that, the state announced (plans for) their own Web site and asked us to be a partner," said GHA spokesman Kevin Bloye, adding that he doesn’t regard the state’s site as competition.

"From our standpoint, any site that can help consumers make informed decisions about their health care providers is a good thing."

The DCH site allows users to compare cost and quality data for hospitals, cost data for prescription drugs and outpatient procedures, and quality rankings for health insurance plans.

Steele said by this summer, they also hope to include a database of physicians.

A mapping feature shows users the address and location of facilities in their ZIP code. Steele said this will be expanded to include public health clinics, nursing homes, dialysis centers and more.

The current Web site has a button at the top of the page that says "Find care now." Users can sort through a list of area hospitals according to what types of services they provide.

People can also compare services offered by seven major insurance companies and Georgia’s Medicaid and PeachCare managed-care organizations.

As with hospitals, there is currently no way to directly compare the insurance plans on pricing, but Steele said that may be added later.

"This is a work in progress," she said.

One of the most popular features of the site is the database, featuring more than 2,000 articles and items about health, wellness, prevention and specific diseases. It serves as a virtual encyclopedia of medical knowledge where users can search the database either alphabetically or according to systems of the body.

Steele hopes consumers will bookmark the site and make it their first choice when they’re looking for health information in Georgia.

"This is still pretty much in its infancy, and we’ll continue to upgrade it," she said. "There’s tons of sites out there, but I don’t think any is quite like this one."