LONDON The UK's National Health Service (NHS) has launched a pilot version of an online library that will provide health care professionals with the knowledge and know-how to support health care decisions. With the stated aim of becoming of becoming "one of the greatest libraries of the world," the National electronic Library for Health (NeLH) will provide fast access to the latest thinking in health care services but will also act as a filter to ensure the reliability of the information it links to.
One of the main aims of the NeLH is to help patients and the public navigate their way through the vast amounts of health information available on the internet, much of which is of poor quality. A recent report by the NHS Information Authority stated: "The World Wide Web is not an unmitigated boon. People who hitherto had inadequate access to paper-based information, are now in danger of being overwhelmed by electronic information, but it is impossible to run quality control on the web as a whole. The vast proliferation of healthcare websites, most of which give no indication about the quality of information that they include, make the web a bewildering place which can be misleading, sometimes dangerously so."
The initial information sources being made available to NHS staff through the NeLH include the BMJ's Clinical Evidence, the Cochrane Library, and other NHS databases and best-practice information sources. There will also be virtual branch libraries run by individual academic or clinical institutions devoted to specific areas such as cancer, paediatrics, and primary care.
"Our aim is to provide easy access to best current knowledge to improve health and healthcare, patient choice, and clinical practice. Over the next year we will learn more about user needs, and, as opportunities arise, further resources and features will be added," said Dr Muir Gray, the library's programme director.