Medical libraries have been involved with automated services for over a century, beginning with the association of John Shaw Billings, the Director of the Library of the Surgeon‐General's Office of the US Army and Herman Hollerith, founder of the Computing‐Tabulating‐Recording Company, which eventually changed its name to IBM. In the early 1960s, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) began development of MEDLARS, the first successful large‐scale online bibliographic information retrieval system. More recent developments include use of CDROM discs for searching databases, full‐text online and CDROM medical journals and experiments in document delivery such as ADONIS. Currently, the proliferation of medical end‐users, combined with the need for rapid publication of medical data, has led to the first attempt at electronic publishing in the form of the Online Journal of Current Clinical Trials. The Internet, a global computer network of networks, is now being used to transmit up‐to‐date medical information to practitioners worldwide, while satellite systems such as SatelLife provide the means to transmit health care information to rural areas in developing countries. This paper provides an overview of electronic health information systems currently available, and discusses their implications for the dissemination of information for medical practitioners within the context of the health care infrastructure in South Africa.
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