Evidence-based medicine for all: what we can learn from a programme providing free access to an online clinical resource to health workers in resource-limited settings

BMJ Glob Health. 2016 May 23;1(1):e000041. doi: 10.1136/bmjgh-2016-000041. eCollection 2016.


The rapidly changing landscape of medical knowledge and guidelines requires health professionals to have immediate access to current, reliable clinical resources. Access to evidence is instrumental in reducing diagnostic errors and generating better health outcomes. UpToDate, a leading evidence-based clinical resource is used extensively in the USA and other regions of the world and has been linked to lower mortality and length of stay in US hospitals. In 2009, the Global Health Delivery Project collaborated with UpToDate to provide free subscriptions to qualifying health workers in resource-limited settings. We evaluated the provision of UpToDate access to health workers by analysing their usage patterns. Since 2009, ∼2000 individual physicians and healthcare institutions from 116 countries have received free access to UpToDate through our programme. During 2013-2014, users logged into UpToDate ∼150 000 times; 61% of users logged in at least weekly; users in Africa were responsible for 54% of the total usage. Search patterns reflected local epidemiology with 'clinical manifestations of malaria' as the top search in Africa, and 'management of hepatitis B' as the top search in Asia. Our programme demonstrates that there are barriers to evidence-based clinical knowledge in resource-limited settings we can help remove. Some assumed barriers to its expansion (poor internet connectivity, lack of training and infrastructure) might pose less of a burden than subscription fees.