After a long wait, the state Department of Health has finally launched its website to allow the public to access health inspection scores for nearly 6,000 restaurants, campgrounds and lodging establishments in South Dakota.

The website, http:// doh.sd.gov/healthscore, provides a searchable database for inspection scores for every community in the state, except Sioux Falls, which has its own health inspection system and website.

The website replaces the paper-based system that prevented consumers from easily obtaining information about the health inspections for restaurants. In the past, consumers would have to request a copy from the Office of Health Protection in Pierre.

The new website will make it possible for consumers to find a restaurant’s health score immediately.

That is, if they can navigate the website. Our initial attempt at using the website was unsuccessful until we got some search tips -- e.g., type the first letter of the business’ name, then *, and the city where it’s located; scroll through the results until you find the restaurant, campground or lodging establishment you’re looking for.

Unfortunately, most consumers sitting at their home computer are not going to be able to find what they’re searching for without help, making the website no better than the previous drop-a-letter-in-the-mailbox method.

Our initial impression is to ask: South Dakota spent a $151,000 federal grant for this?

The website was to be ready at the end of 2011, but software bugs delayed its launch until last week.

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The Department of Health said the website eventually would allow consumers to view complete health inspection reports instead of just the last four 1 to 100 health scores.

We are pleased to see that the Department of Health has finally gone live with a website for restaurant health inspection scores, making the cleanliness of restaurants open to consumers.

When the health score website is updated this fall, the Department of Health needs to take the next step and make it more user friendly. It doesn’t do any good to make health information available if the consumer can’t easily find it.

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