Despite the fact that personal computer prices have dropped to less than $500, some persons still lack an Internet connection in their homes. For those without computers, public and medical libraries offer an attractive alternative. Very few public libraries do not now have Internet access. Medical information is almost universally available to those intent on finding it. It is estimated that of the more than 110 million Internet users, about 25 million people in the United States have resorted to the Internet for medical information.
The market for electronically delivered consumer health information has three basic components: the library market, with subscriptions to CD-ROM and online databases; the hospital and clinic institutional market, which typically integrates CHI into a patient or health education program; and the home market, which remains quite limited because consumers see little reason to pay for what is available to them free. The CD-ROM market is rapidly vanishing in favor of online services. The shift away from stand-alone CD-ROMs in public libraries to online and networked access to databases has become widespread as libraries find that EBSCOHost and Gale's Health Reference Center and Health and Wellness Resource Center offer a wide variety of databases more efficiently and cheaply. Libraries offer these databases in the role of consolidators offering a wide variety of health information resources and thereby eliminating the necessity for consumers to sift through multiple Web sites.
The allure of electronic access to library management is that it permits self-service, a highly attractive option to public library management in that minimal staff time is required for explanation and assistance. End-user access offers a simple, user-friendly interface with rapid lookup and printout of information from multiple magazines, journals, and reference books. In many cases, bibliographic references can be supplemented with full text without recourse to photocopy machines or interlibrary loan. Users can conveniently access a combined index, abstracts, summaries, and full text.
The typical health consumer using electronic media seeks current, accurate, and comprehensive medical information, derived from authoritative and credible sources. Clinical information is favored over research data. Full text availability of documents is more preferable than abstracts. Value-added features particularly appreciated by consumers include dic-tionary definitions, photographs, diagrams, book reviews, questions to ask your doctor, sound clips, videos, and animation. Also desirable are news of medical research, and newly approved drugs, clinical trials, and health care policy and legislation. Pamphlets are highly popular as sources of simple, concise, and current explanations of diseases and disorders. The inclusion of reference books and clinical sum-