The most comprehensive and authoritative guide to prescription medicines in use in this country began to offer open access to the public as well as healthcare professionals recently, with a pharmaceutical database listing 2,500 medicines and the 15,000 changes made every year to drug licences.

The Electronic Medicines Compendium - or eMC - is drawn from the summary of product characteristics, data sheets and patient information leaflets supplied by drug companies and approved by the Department of Health as part of the licensing system.

Until now the only way the public could get access to this information was by writing individually to pharmaceutical companies, or by consulting a printed copy of the vast Compendium of Data Sheets at main reference libraries.

Datapharm Communications, which runs the site, is already working with the Virtual Health Network on phase two.

The project includes plans to add a way of identifying a medicine by its appearance, information on interactions between medicines, major formularies so that diseases can be referenced against the drugs available for them, and an authoritative textbook on diseases.

Dr Mark Porter's new Surgery Door offers a small step in the direction of direct access to healthcare professionals, and is already one of the best UK health consumer websites around. But, of course, the Americans just have to take it one step further.

'Have you been prescribed medications by several different physicians?' asks MedTalk. For a fee its pharmacists will analyse your drugs, herbal remedies and alternative 'medicines' and tell you what interacts with what and what you can do about it.

'We can even contact your physician to discuss these medications on your behalf, ' it offers. Should go down well with