Your Fast Track to Medical Information

Yvona Fast

Are you looking for an Internet site that’s user-friendly and dependable? Medlineplus ( is your source. Brought to you by the U.S. government’s National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, it’s one of the best resources for general medical information. Included are health topics, a medical encyclopedia, directories, organizations, and the latest medical news. You can access information about various diseases and conditions and pharmaceutical drugs.

There are also good user-friendly tutorials on a variety of topics, written at a fifth-grade level, bringing medical knowledge within reach of almost any user. The site is updated daily and reviewed continually. The links are checked regularly for quality, authority, and accuracy of content. Best of all, there are no ads to confuse the user-all you see is medical information.

The Current Health News section lists news from the past month under the heading More News. You can choose a topic from daily lists or from an alphabetical topic list.

Medline’s online Medical Encyclo-pedia section, with more than 4,000 entries, gives nice brief overviews of a variety of medical topics. There is much valuable information here, with great color illustrations and photos.

The Dictionary section allows you to look up a variety of medical terms.

Medline’s Interactive Health Tutorials are another excellent source of information. These animated graphics and other resources are found under the Health Topics or Interactive Tutorial section.

The Drug Information section in Medline is its weakest area. It’s fairly easy to look up a drug by its name-generic or manufacturer’s-and get information about it. However, finding information about drug interactions if you’re taking more than one medication can be tough. It’s also difficult to look up a condition and find what drugs are currently prescribed for it. There is good information here, but it can be confusing.

Searching Medline

Doing research on Medline is easy! There are many ways to search this site. You can use the search box or the Health Topics section. I prefer the latter, because the search box often yields too many results. This can be overwhelming and confusing. Health Topics can be examined either by using the alphabetical index or the broad-group feature. Simply click on the first letter of your health topic, and look for it in the alphabetical list.

For example, when looking for information on rotator cuff injuries, I clicked on Health Topics, then on the letter R. Going down the list, I found this entry: “Rotator Cuff Injuries, see Shoulder Injuries and Disorders.” Clicking on the link to shoulder injuries and disorders brought me to a large menu of items. Among them was an interactive tutorial from the Patient Education Institute on rotator cuff injuries. Also available were many articles from various sources on aspects ranging from general overviews to diagnosis, prevention, rehabilitation, and treatment. In addition, links to directories and organizations such as the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons were provided.

Another way to find information on your topic is by broad group. These groups include such things as Women’s Health, or Eyes and Vision. Clicking on Eyes and Vision, for example, gives you a list including eye anatomy; various conditions, such as cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma; and procedures such as laser eye surgery. Clicking on Vision Disorders and Blindness leads to a variety of options, including the latest news, an online vision test, a diagram of the eye, and an introduction to adaptive computer technology. There are sections here for children, seniors, information in Spanish, statistics, legal policy, directories of organizations that work with the blind, and a multitude of other informative articles.

Two more sites from the U.S. government need to be mentioned. Healthfinder ( is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It’s an excellent gateway to health information. A gateway is a site that has a directory of agencies and organizations (in this case more than 1,800 of them), and will direct you to selected, targeted sites. Included are online e-zines, databases, medical journals, and support groups-all checked for credibility.

Medline’s database contains more than 12 million article references published in almost 4,500 biomedical journals and magazines. To search this extensive collection of medical literature, go to PubMed (www.ncbi.nlm.nih .gov/pubmed/). Here you will find brief information about scientific articles on your topic. Keep in mind that these articles are written for medical professionals rather than the general public. Most have abstracts, or short summaries; some have links to the full text. A few have only the citation. When the full text of the article isn’t available, or is offered only to paid subscribers, you may have to visit a medical library to find the full text, or see if your local public library can get it for you through interlibrary loan.

Though many PubMed pages have links to related articles in Medlineplus, searching this extensive database is a bit harder than searching Medlineplus. It’s best to use two or three terms linked with an “and” or “not.” Other-wise, you will come out with too many results. It’s also good to be familiar with MeSH (Medical Subject Head-ings), the controlled vocabulary of the National Library of Medicine, and use these MeSH terms in your searches. The PubMed tutorial, which you reach by going to the PubMed site and then clicking on Tutorial in the left-hand column, can help you learn to use the database most effectively.

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