June 16, 2015 / 10:00 PM / 4 years ago

Merck Manuals health guides go digital, and free, in global push

(Reuters) - Merck Manuals, the widely used health guides provided by drugmaker Merck & Co, are moving to a digital-only format in 10 different languages as part of an effort to educate the global community on medical issues.

The new version of Merck Manuals debuted in the U.S. in April, offering free online access to both professional and consumer audiences. The professional manuals have been distributed in print since 1899 and most recently carried a price tag of nearly $80.

New websites will launch in other English-speaking countries in July, while sites translated into nine other languages are expected in the next 12 to 18 months. An English-language mobile app is set to launch by at least early 2016, with translated apps to follow, the company said.

Outside of the U.S. and Canada, the sites and apps will be known as MSD Manuals.

By offering both professional and consumer-oriented content free of charge, users can find what they are looking for in as much detail as they need, said Merck Manuals editor-in-chief Robert Porter. The information is compiled by hundreds of medical experts across the world.

“We would like to show information as a universal right, not a commodity,” Porter said in an interview.

Over 100 videos for performing medical procedures will be included in the professional mobile app, “so if you’re up the Amazon and haven’t delivered a baby in a while, we’ll have that available” for healthcare providers, Porter said.

The switch to digital is also an effort to help readers quickly access authoritative health content among the hundreds of results that can pop up in an Internet search.

In a survey of over 2,000 people conducted for Merck Manuals by Harris Poll, 28 percent of Americans say that overwhelming amounts of information online is their biggest barrier to increasing medical knowledge, while 79 percent believe that having access to the same information as their doctor would improve how they understand their health.

The new U.S. websites have had about 4 million unique visitors since their April launch, and Merck Manuals will continue to invest millions of dollars each year to maintain the digital publication.

Reporting by Kylie Gumpert; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Phil Berlowitz

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