The digital revolution has changed forever the way information is stored and retrieved. Becoming obsolete is the library of hardbound books, replaced by virtual libraries that can hold a limitless amount of information that's always available.
The Virtual Hospital is a digital health sciences library created at the University of Iowa in 1992 to help meet the information needs of healthcare providers and patients. Until recently, the authoritative medical information physicians need to help them take better care of their patients has been available only in print form in libraries far from the point of care. The Virtual Hospital digital library was created to lower the barriers to accessing that information. It also delivers continuing education credits to physicians' offices and homes in a clinically relevant context at their convenience.
University of Iowa representatives say determining how much it initially cost to convert their materials to the virtual library is complicated. But "with a staff of six and a yearly budget around $300,000, they keep all of University of Iowa Health Care's patient and provider educational materials as well as administrative materials online and up-to-date," says Michael D'Alessandro, M.D., one of the library's founders.
With more than 350 peer-reviewed books and booklets from 160 authors in 29 departments and four colleges at the University of Iowa, it had 6.9 million visitors in 1999 who read 28.4 million pages of information, generating nearly 63 million hits.
Companies such as St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Emedicine are poised to supply texts to digital libraries. Emedicine has software that allows authors and editors from around the world to write textbooks online quickly and efficiently.
The company already has an emergency medicine text online and expects to add texts for surgery and medicine, dermatology, ophthalmology, neurology, pediatrics, and veterinary medicine.
The site's developers say that since their authors are able to update their chapters at any time, they are able to deliver the most contemporary medical information in an accessible medium with no cost to users.
The emergency medicine online book has 650 chapters on topics written by nearly 400 physicians in the United States and several other countries.
Emedicine CEO Scott Plantz, M.D., says that while a new edition of a medical textbook takes at least three or four years to update, because of the time necessary for review and production, the online text can be updated quickly as often as necessary. In addition, the online book is available at no cost to users since it is supported by online advertising revenue. The company points out that sponsors have no control over editorial content.