Dental Informatics (DI) is the application of computer and information science to improve dental practice, research, education, and program administration. As an emerging field, dental informatics faces many challenges and barriers to establishing itself as a full-fledged discipline; these include the small number of geographically dispersed DI researchers as well as the lack of DI professional societies and DI-specific journals. E-communities have the potential to overcome these obstacles by bringing researchers together at a resources hub and giving them the ability to share information, discuss topics, and find collaborators. In this paper, we discuss our assessment of the information needs of individuals interested in DI and discuss their expectations for an e-community so that we can design an optimal electronic infrastructure for the Dental Informatics Online Community (DIOC). The 256 survey respondents indicated they prefer electronic resources over traditional print material to satisfy their information needs. The most frequently expected benefits from participation in the DIOC were general information (85% of respondents), peer networking (31.1%), and identification of potential collaborators and/or research opportunities (23.2%). We are currently building the DIOC electronic infrastructure: a searchable publication archive and the learning center have been created, and the people directory is underway. Readers are encouraged to access the DIOC Website at www.dentalinformatics.com and initiate a discussion with the authors of this paper.
Keywords: dental research, dental informatics, Internet, information systems, online systems, information services, hypermedia, computer communication networks