Worldwide free access to evidence based resources could transform health care
- Richard Smith, editor,
- Iain Chalmers, director
- UK Cochrane Centre, Oxford OX2 7LG
America's two greatest gifts to the world are jazz and Medline. Now the British government has the chance to match Medline by funding universal free access to what might be described as “a Medline of synthesised, reliable, and up to date evidence.” This could be even more useful to clinicians and patients and has the potential to change health care across the world.
Medline is an electronic index of nearly 4500 journals from over 70 countries compiled by Washington's National Library of Medicine. It has been available online since 1971. Later, Hilary Clinton, then America's first lady, announced worldwide free access to Medline through the internet (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/). Since then the number of people using it has increased exponentially, and many of them are patients. There is no better free starting point for finding high quality medical information.
But a search of Medline may be frustrating. Although Medline often includes abstracts and free access to the full text of some articles (including those in the BMJ), clinicians and patients may be overwhelmed by an avalanche of references and abstracts. They only rarely have the time and resources to sift through the output of a search, let alone obtain the full texts of all the articles that may answer their questions. Clinicians and patients need ready access to syntheses of valid, up to date information relevant to their questions.