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A medical classic gets a 21st-century makeover, going online and low-cost

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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The Oxford University Press has launched an online version of the Oxford Textbook of Medicine, complete with all the text, figures and illustrations that make up the three-volume, 6,000-page, 25-pound print behemoth. The book is a classic among generations of doctors and medical students, and it is considered the ultimate medical reference book by other professionals including lawyers and journalists.

And it’s about to become even more popular. Cheap and even free access for more than 3,500 institutions in less-developed countries will be sponsored through the Wellcome Trust—the U.K.’s largest nongovernmental biomedical research funding agency—and the World Health Organization’s HINARI Access to Research in Health Programme.

“The Oxford Textbook of Medicine plays a considerable part in consolidating the practice of evidence-based medicine around the world, and the Wellcome Trust is pleased to be a part of the initiative to ensure that high-quality research is widely disseminated,” said Wellcome Trust director Mark Walpor in a prepared statement. “This will support these countries in building research capacity and promoting evidence-based medicine, ensuring that research knowledge is translated into practice."

First published in 1983, the book is now in its fifth edition. But unlike its print predecessors, the online version benefits from browsing tools, links to further reading through online databases such as the National Institutes of Health’s PubMed, and regular content updates.

Many textbooks are moving online, making for lighter backpacks and more interactive learning. Cutting paper and printing costs should make them cheaper, too—after the initial investment in the hardware needed to view the content, of course. An individual annual subscription for the online Oxford Textbook of Medicine will only set you back 160 U.K. pounds (roughly $240) per year, according to the Oxford University Press website, compared with the print version’s $580.13 price tag on Amazon.com—a steep price even with the Super Saver shipping.

Photo: iStockphoto/clearviewstock





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  1. 1. jtdwyer 10:17 am 05/7/2010

    I suggest a longer term financial analysis of cost: by the the third year the subscription cost exceeds the print version. Presumedly there’s additional benefits for the online subscription, but its cost advantage seems to exist only for the extremely short sighted.

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  2. 2. ol_crazy_eyes 12:46 pm 05/7/2010

    Yeah, but now it will be much easier to steal.

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  3. 3. Johnay 11:39 am 05/10/2010

    I would expect the online edition would be updated more often, potentially on a continual basis. Otherwise it’s much cheaper to get an updated print edition when it comes out, every six to seven years so far.

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  4. 4. opiumsophie 5:19 am 05/11/2010

    The online version will be updated every six months beginning in 2011.

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  5. 5. jtdwyer 7:14 am 05/11/2010

    opiumsophie – Thanks. So the online version will be cheaper only for institutional access in less developed countries. Whether or not the increased annualized cost for most customers will be justifiable depends on the actual value of biannual updates, browsing tools and database access. I’m sure it’ll slide right into most institutional budgets, right behind pencils, but don’t try to tell a competent accountant (or an astute administrator) that it’s cheaper.

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  6. 6. opiumsophie 6:16 am 05/13/2010

    it’s yearly, actually, starting 2011. Not every six months. Best thing to do is check out the website: http://www.oup.com/uk/otm5/online

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