Information on the Web
There's a tremendous amount of health information on the Web,
but most of it suffers from two basic problems:
1. It varies widely in quality. When you find a new site, look
to see who sponsors it, and determine its intended audience.
Is it current? What is its evidence base? The Medical Library
Association has a similar
list of questions on its site. MedlinePlus has a useful
page of links, entitled Evaluating
2. Unlike MEDLINE and other structured databases, most of the
Web is completely unorganized. Search engines look at all the
words on a Web page, as well as the links to and from the Web
page (and, in some cases, additional criteria) for determining
its ranking in response to a query. The ranking of "hits"
from a search may or may not be suitable to your needs. Sometimes
it's helpful to start elsewhere than Google.
Here is a sampling of useful places to go:
Interesting Search Tools
In addition to its well-known main search page, Google offers
a variety of specialized search pages. Google
Scholar uses Google's search algorithm, but its results are
limited to articles and books of scholarly interest. According
to Google, you can use it "to find articles from a wide variety
of academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories
and universities, as well as scholarly articles available across
the web." You can set Scholar's Preferences
to show links within your affiliated medical library.
Searches for health information in Scholar will often point to
abstracts. When you find useful articles in Scholar, determine
how they were indexed for PubMed (MeSH
terms), and do another search in PubMed using these terms.
Why? Because of the way that Scholar ranks hits, it is likely
to miss the latest papers, and -- more importantly -- it lacks
PubMed's ability to conduct Boolean searches based on the concepts
that are represented by MeSH terms. You can see the MeSH terms
for an article by displaying it in the "citation" format.
Google Scholar, still in beta at this writing, is attracting
a lot of attention from medical librarians (see Banks
2005 and Henderson
limits its results to scientific information. Its default mode
searches both journals and the web, and its results page provides
a link to each search. Less well known than Google Scholar, this
is a powerful tool. Highly recommended.
OAIster (find the pearls...). OAIster
is the University of Michigan Digital Library's attempt at creating
a collection of freely available, previously difficult-to-access,
academically-oriented digital resources.
Of course you can search for specific practice guidelines within
MEDLINE/PubMed by limiting your search to Publication Type "Practice
Guideline" and following the links, but there are other resources
for practice guidelines:
Guideline Clearing House is the Agency for Healthcare Research
and Quality's (AHRQ) public archive for evidence-based clinical
practice guidelines. AHRQ guidelines can also be accessed from
(Health Services/Technology Assessment Text),
which is an electronic book on the National Center for Biotechnology
These are all free full text resources.
Evidence Based Medicine
Some evidence based medicine resources require a subscription,
but here is a sampling of free resources:
These sites are also useful for health professionals. The Medical
Library Association (MLA) has produced a User's
Guide to Finding and Evaluating Health Information on the Web,
which includes a list of their "top ten" most useful
consumer web sites. My own favorite is MedlinePlus,
which has links to carefully vetted health
topic pages, a serviceable medical
dictionary, links to patient drug
information sheets, and links to all the current
health news, in reverse chronological order (organized by
day). Health-related stories are a staple of the media, and we
often are questioned about them. This is a good way to find enough
information to locate the study itself.
Librarians are experts in the organization of intellectual resources
(historically, this has been books), so it is not surprising that
medical librarians have made significant attempts at organizing
medical information on the Web. Here is a sampling:
- The Recommended
Core Collection of Web Sites for Hospital Libraries, created
by the Camden Campus Library of the University of Medicine &
Dentistry of New Jersey, is another useful list of links.
MD is a directory of directories, organized by topic areas.
Links to more links. Compiled by Eric Rumsey at the Hardin Library
for the Health Sciences at the University of Iowa -- a very
- The National Library of Medicine (NLM) - see NLM
Resources on this Web site.
Academic medical center libraries subscribe to a variety of Web-based
resources that can be accessed from the library (or remotely by
affiliates of the library). A sampling:
- EMBASE - a bibliographic
database with a somewhat different scope than MEDLINE. Offers
extensive coverage of the drug and biomedical literature.
- Web of Science
- A bibliographic database with excellent search capabilities
for cited reference searching.
- Cochrane Database of Systematic
Reviews - Evidence-based reviews of the clinical
of the Cochrane Reviews are free-of-charge).
- Drug Information Fulltext
- Full text access to American
Hospital Formulary Service Drug Information.
- Harrison's Online
- Full text access to Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine.
Librarians themselves are the best resource; visit your library.
Institutes of Health (NIH) is the premier institution for
biomedical research. As you might expect, its Web site is huge.
Each of its many institutes
and centers has its own Web site. (The National Library of
Medicine (NLM), which produces MEDLINE/PubMed, is part of NIH.)
of Health and Human Services is the overall government agency
for health. Its Web site is designed for the general public. However,
it also contains links to the various NIH
institutes and centers, the Food
and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Agency
for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and other U.S.
Government health agency Web sites.
The U.S. Government's role in biomedical research, public health,
and health care delivery has been the subject of a great deal
of literature, and it is all well indexed in MEDLINE. There are
MeSH for each of the above-named agencies. To use these in your
MEDLINE searches, go to the Entrez
MeSH Database and take a look. Here is a link to United
States Dept. of Health and Human Services within the MeSH
Public Health Sites
If you are working in public health, take advantage of Partners
in Information Access for the Public Health workforce.
Other useful public health sites:
A great deal of highly specialized health-related information
on the Web is managed by specific professional associations. Become
a member of the organizations that represent what you do.
Google's wonderfully spare search page provides a link to Google
Image Search, where you can find images to spruce up your
presentations. Less well known but more powerful for serious educational
purposes is HEAL
(Health Education Assets Library). HEAL describes itself as
"a digital library that provides freely accessible digital
teaching resources of the highest quality that meet the needs
of today's health sciences educators and learners." HEAL
is peer reviewed, and its images are organized by MeSH. The CDC
maintains a Public
Health Image Library. The National Library of Medicine maintains
from the History of Medicine.