The first edition of the Consumer Health Information Source Book was published more than 20 years ago. In the foreword, Donald Vickery, M.D., stated that “the recognition of the individual's responsibility for health and the physician's responsibility to advise and assist in the individual's decision making has resulted in the most significant change in the doctor-patient relationship in the last century, perhaps ever. Intelligent decision making is impossible, however, without relevant, up-to-date information on a wide variety of topics.” This statement provides a cogent rationale for consumer health information services and is as valid today as it was in 198L Consumer need for health information remains the constant. What has changed in the interim is related to the mode of information access. Health information is now available to millions of persons who are empowered with information derived from the Internet and the pervasive media. In contrast, two decades ago, consumers were faced with the problem of identifying relevant and useful information and then locating where it could be accessed. Access was limited to print resources that could be either purchased or consulted in medical and public libraries. At that time, libraries were not yet accustomed to disseminating health information to the public. A former director of the Cleveland Public Library objected to providing “medical advice” to the public and wondered whether “legal advice” would follow as a logical next step. This was a true red herring because information was confused with advice.
In 2002, the situation has been transformed because there is now organized unmediated access to print and electronic resources. Moreover, libraries are both willing and capable of responding to the information needs of patients and consumers with a variety of products and services. The doors of medical and public libraries are today wide open to consumers. Beneficially to consumers and patients, the National Library of Medicine has more recently assumed a leadership role in providing health information to the public. This represents a significant sea change. In the third edition of the Consumer Health Information Source Book (1990), it was argued, “At the very least the National Library of Medicine should commission an objective study of present access to the lay literature for the purpose of defining the problems involved, possible options, and modes of cooperation between the federal government and the private sector in providing improved and coordinated access to information of vital concern to all Americans.” Consumer access is now greatly facilitated, and those seeking information no longer have to master the arcane complexity of subject headings, descriptors, and Boolean logic in constructing search strategies. Instead, an avalanche of information can be rapidly identified and downloaded by consumers. The true revolution in medical consumerism lies in the liber-
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Publication information: Book title: Consumer Health Information Source Book. Contributors: Alan M. Rees - Editor. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 2003. Page number: xi.
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