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Posted on: Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Wired In
Two online medical databases

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

Most of us medical laypersons go about online health research without much surgical precision. The usual approach: Pick a search engine at random, type in the name of the disease or what-have-you, and sift through the myriad (and mostly unusable) results.

Most haven’t heard of options such as MedlinePlus and PubMed, two free online databases provided by the National Library of Medicine that deliver current and, most importantly, reliable information. And nothing challenges a librarian more than information that’s freely available but unused.

Christine Sato and Tina Okamoto of the Hawai‘i Medical Library’s Consumer Health Information Services are answering the challenge through a series of free workshops on these medical information services, which began earlier this month but continue through the spring (see box). Signups are limited to 15 participants per workshop, but seven more sessions are scheduled, including one tomorrow.

PubMed links you to clinical research abstracts and, because the material is more technical , performing an effective search takes a little more know-how, Sato said. MedlinePlus, by comparison, comprises health information that’s written more simply, for the general public.

"Everyone is interested in searching the Internet for health information," Sato added. "But it’s not always that easy to find current information on the Internet that's authoritative.

"Our class really focuses on how to do a basic search," she said. "With MedlinePlus, it's not that it’s hard to use, it’s they don't know it’s available and easy to use."

Both services are accessible from the medical library’s Web site: Scroll down the page at hml.org/CHIS/datab.html to find the links.

Sato ran a search on a suggested topic: menopause.

"Most people just type in ‘menopause,’" she said. "You’ll probably get hundreds and thousands of citations. But what is it you want to know? Is it nutrition? Is it hormone treatment?"

Typing a series of relevant terms will winnow the results somewhat to a list that’s at least browse-able.

PubMed provides a free research abstract, and a link if the user wants to purchase the entire article. A search on MedlinePlus delivers a collection of links to documents, generally written in layman’s language.

However, the general public also needs access to PubMed (with medical-journal entries dating to 1966) because a patient with a health condition often absorbs all the general information about their ailment and needs the more specific answers that clinical research can provide, Sato said.

The workshops deal exclusively with these services, although Sato acknowledged the wealth of good health information elsewhere on the Web.

"There are some really good Web sites out there that have authoritative information as well," she said. "But for the searcher, you need to be able to discern that, to tell what’s good information and what isn’t.

"With MedlinePlus and PubMed, you can rely on the fact that it is. It's a basic place to start."

Workshops scheduled

The Hawai‘i Medical Library’s Consumer Health Information Services is holding workshops on MedlinePlus and PubMed, two free online medical databases.

  • 6 p.m. tomorrow, Hawaii Kai Public Library
  • 10:30 a.m. Feb. 24, Pearl City Public Library
  • 9 a.m. Jan. 31, Feb. 22, March 17, April 27 and May 19, Hawai‘i Medical Library
  • Information: 536-9302, ext. 127

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