Increasing attention has been given over the last decade to the topic of health care information for patients and the public. This is called consumer health information and it encompasses information about health and illness at a lay level; information about health care services available from the statutory and voluntary sectors; and information about choices in treatment and care. This is not a uniquely modern phenomenon. A study of self care and early lay medical publishing shows a robust and continuing tradition of people looking after themselves, without recourse to health professionals and with advice from various vernacular sources. However it is only since the 1970s that libraries and information services have developed to provide ready access for the public to consumer health information. The first consumer health information (CHI) services were established in the United States. By the late 1970s the first uk services had been established in Stevenage and Southampton. For most of the 1980s these were the only well developed CHI services in the UK library world, with most health information reaching consumers through a variety of non‐library advice agencies. The last two or three years have seen a flowering of CHI services, with the encouragement of official policies on consumer choice and quality assurance. There have been advances in the bibliographic control of the subject with the availability of new CHI databases. This emerging information specialism is now reaching maturity with a new concern with quality of service.
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