Remember the medical encyclopaedia? It was printed in an improbably small font and weighed a tonne, but every family used to have one – and many probably still do, gathering dust in an attic or on an unkempt bookshelf. It's strange to contemplate now, but for decades this hefty tome was our only reliable source of medical information.
A great deal has changed in the 15 years since the Telegraph website first went online, not the least of which is the transformation in how we keep ourselves healthy. From getting a diagnosis online, obtaining information and statistics on local hospitals or GPs to obtaining potions, lotions and remedies, the internet has become a one-stop shop for the sick, the infirm or just the worried well.
1994, the year when the good ship Electronic Telegraph first set sail, also saw the first major development in the field of internet health with the creation of PharmWeb. Originally conceived as a resource for pharmaceutical professionals, it revolutionised the way health advice was distributed by creating a community where professionals and patients could discuss medical and health-related issues. Four years later, MedlinePlus, an online health encyclopaedia run by the US National Library of Medicine, was launched, collating medical advice while adding elements such as health news and a directory of healthcare providers.
Online pharmacies have sprung up, offering a range of legal and not so legal remedies. As anyone who regularly checks their spam filter will know, online drugs are big business: the Royal Pharmaceutical Society estimates that two million people in the UK regularly buy drugs over the internet.