February 9th, 2011

Who’s on first? NLM and Google health searches

3/2/11 edit – please see What’s on second? PubMed Health for an update.

MedlinePlus from the National Library of Medicine (NLM) is not a catchy name but is a catchy site for patient health information especially since last year’s redesign. Check out this great tutorial (which would make a perfect narrated screencast) on searching keywords on MedlinePlus right from the start in Google. (hat tip Mark MacEachern)

Most medical librarians are well aware of and promote MedlinePlus as a source of quality, unbiased, advertising-free health information to others. There’s still quite a ways to go in having everyone else be well aware of and promote MedlinePlus, especially since a recent New York Times print Sunday magazine article missed it entirely while cautioning against using WebMD.

In October 2009, Eric Rumsey covered the Google Health One Box listing MedlinePlus, Mayo, WebMD and its own Google Health link first for health information searches. There was an important distinction between Google Health (listing Symptoms first) and MedlinePlus (listing Causes first) even though both were drawing upon the same source medical encyclopedia information from A.D.A.M.

In August 2010, the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Middle Atlantic Region (NN/LM MAR) and Michelle Kraft covered the launch of PubMed Health as a source of health information for the public from NLM, noting that Google searches for certain drugs were already leading to PubMed Health pages. There was promise of an NLM Technical Bulletin writeup with more detailed information when it launched but I haven’t seen one to date.

Currently, PubMed Health (that is a direct link to popup information that you can find by clicking the logo on a PubMed Health subject page) does not have a direct URL. If you attempt to backtrack from a PubMed Health information page, say http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0000886 for misoprostol (… seriously not reviewed since 2008?) to http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth, the same information as the main home page (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) is displayed. There are no links to PubMed Health from within PubMed itself, MedlinePlus, or other NLM resources that I can identify.

Fast forward to last week, 2011. Without any announcement I can find online, Google Health One Box appears to have vanished and most Google health information searches have a brief blurb on the top and a link to…. PubMed Health, containing A.D.A.M medical encyclopedia information? Eric Rumsey is again on the case with great coverage highlighting this change.

Michelle Kraft (congrats by the way!) was prescient on this one back in August:

I just worry about possible confusion with this new resource.  If it is for consumers then calling it something very similar to an already established consumer database is going to be confusing IMHO.

Even more confusing now is this latest development. Where did the Google Health One Box and the MedlinePlus link go for health information searches? How did this NLM and Google arrangement happen? What is PubMed Health now that it’s incorporated A.D.A.M in addition to the initial pharmacy information? What other consumer health resources are on the horizon for PubMed Health? Why are we supposed to promote MedlinePlus if PubMed Health information is what people will find as a result of Google health information searches?

Who’s on first, MedlinePlus or PubMed Health? Google says PubMed Health: that is what the public is now seeing and we as information professionals need to be prepared to respond to inquiries about information from it. What do you say?

3 Responses to “Who’s on first? NLM and Google health searches”

  1. Alison says:

    This is pure speculation, but I think PubMed Health might be aimed at users with a lower level of digital literacy than is required to use MedlinePlus effectively… people who probably don’t have a connection to a librarian who could guide them through the tangle of links MedlinePlus gets to be sometimes. As someone in the #healthlit chat last week pointed out, “MedlinePlus is not for beginners.”

  2. Kate says:

    Thanks for sharing this presentation!! This is the first of a series that our outreach program will be publishing. There are plans in the works to add audio once we figure out which tools will work best for our needs.

    -Outreach Librarian, Univ. of Mich. Taubman Health Sciences Library

  3. [...] something about PubMed Health! As I discussed in my earlier article on it, and as Nikki Dettmar has discussed, it’s very strange that PubMed Health has been launched and assumed automatic #1 rankings in [...]

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