Sophisticated, Screened Medical Information Now Available on the Internet

By Ronald L. Scott

An article posted 7/16/98, Finding Medical and Health Policy Information on the Internet addressed the difficulty of evaluating the accuracy of medical information found on the Internet. The National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine (NLM), now offers MEDLINEplus <>, an on-line version of its MEDLINE database containing abstracts of articles in 3,900 medical journals. Additionally, the site includes or links to responsible organizations, publications, medical dictionaries, libraries, and directories for finding physicians and hospitals.

A search within MEDLINEplus differs from other Internet searches in one important respect. The NLM has selection guidelines for evaluating whether to include web pages, in an attempt to include only appropriate, authoritative health information sources. Much of the information available at the site is from NLM or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Selection criteria excludes web pages that are selling a product or service. Also, NLM reviews pages for quality, authority and accuracy of content. Even lists of links are "quality-filtered."

First-time or casual users may find the MEDLINE database (an index to medical literature and to some full-text publications produced by NIH) a bit daunting, even though the site attempts to be user-friendly. For example, a MEDLINE search for "ephedrine," a controversial dietary supplement, produced 2828 citations. The first "hit" was The effects of dobutamine and ephedrine on packed cell volume, total protein, heart rate, and blood pressure in anaesthetized horses. The MEDLINE database contains mostly abstracts of articles rather than full text, and will primarily interest serious researchers only. A feature called Loansome Doc allows registered users to order full-text copies of articles from a local medical library, but the site warns that local fees and delivery methods may vary. However, MEDLINE is only a small part of the site-the remaining areas of the site will be useful to a wide variety of consumers seeking accurate, authoritative health information.