Medical info online

Research: With MEDLINE and the newer MEDLINEplus, you can access the National Library of Medicine's data.

February 14, 1999|By MARY ANN FARRELL | MARY ANN FARRELL,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

So who knew? Before MEDLINE, the National Library of Medicine's comprehensive data base, opened its Internet Web site to the public in June 1997, it was receiving about 7 million inquiries a year -- largely from the medical profession.

Today, almost two years later, MEDLINE receives 120 million computer "hits" a year, and only a third are from health practitioners. It has become the second-largest government Web site, after NASA's site.

MEDLINE has proven a real boon for people with disabilities who want to research their own conditions, treatments and medications. And the site is easy to operate. All one has to do is enter a simple search word, and up comes virtually every medical article written from around the world on that topic, starting with the most recent.

The site was getting so many hits, its directors decided to simplify things further. The result is MEDLINE's medical colleague, MEDLINEplus.

"Of those 120 million hits, we began to look at who was searching," says National Library of Medicine's public information director Bob Mehnert. "A third were health practitioners, a third were from the academic world and another third were consumers, the public. That was just fascinating to us. I think consumers today have more savvy and are more sophisticated. They're not intimidated, and they want to know what's out there."

MEDLINE's staffers then took the 30 most sought-after health-care topics -- such as breast cancer, AIDS, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, asthma, prostate cancer and depression -- then created a streamlined search, MEDLINEplus.

"It's a preformulated search we've done for you so you can get the most current articles right away," Mehnert says. "And we've eliminated the stuff which we knew people didn't want to read, like how this drug affected mice, or something written in Swedish, or what this does to dogs and vets."

It's updated every day, and has a medical dictionary. And it has a site where you can download free medical brochures from federal sources.

That's not all.

People with disabilities are often seeking the latest information on approved clinical drug trials and where they are being held. While MEDLINE does print research articles about trial outcomes, there is no centralized place for information without going through myriad universities, hospitals, drug companies, doctors' offices or federal agencies.

"About a year or so ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration directed the National Library of Medicine to centralize a place for clinical drug trials so people could do a one-stop search," Mehnert says. "We do have that now for such things as certain cancers and AIDS, pieces of where the trials are. But that's about it. This would hopefully be for everything, but it's going to take us awhile to put it together."

Time estimates for the clinical-trial site range from two to three years.

Meanwhile, if you're interested in MEDLINEplus, you can plug into it on your computer by typing in http://www.nlm.nih.gov and go right to the big MEDLINEplus banner. If you still want Medline or PubMed, all you have to do is type in those words into your main search engine and the site will automatically appear. From that point, type in the search word you want information on.

Pub Date: 02/14/99

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