It is impossible to describe Medscape by assigning it to a category, since it occupies a place at the front of several online trends. It is a publisher's Web site, but it has so much third-party data that this definition is too limited. It has electronic medical journals, but other kinds of health and medical information make it a broader reference source. Its search capabilities, including MEDLINE, push it into the category of an online search service. Medical professionals are its primary audience, but it can be used effectively by consumers. Finally, although it has the depth of content of a subscription service, it is free to anyone who signs up.
In other words, it is a classic Web product (if the term "classic" can be applied to something as new as the Web) that incorporates several kinds of electronic-information dissemination, without fear of mixing and matching. It takes great advantage of the Web's own distinctive publishing characteristics, including flexibility, graphics, and links to related sites. Ultimately, Medscape is a Web presence for SCP Communications, a medical publisher that provides much of its content, yet its promotional aspects are so understated that you can easily miss them.
Medical Journals and More
Medscape's primary content is taken from over a dozen medical journals published by SCP and others. The SCP titles include several clinically oriented titles in infection, surgery, AIDS, orthopedics, and urology. Thousands of full-text articles from these publications are online, giving Medscape a much larger and broader database than is typical on a publisher's Web site. The collection is not big enough, however, to take a place beside truly comprehensive full-text databases, such as Ovid's Comprehensive Core Medical Library or LEXIS-NEXIS's MEDIS.
Medscape's all-around value is enhanced by several other departments, including news, medical continuing education, and patient information. Daily medical and health news is provided by several sources, including Reuters, Time Inc., and government health agencies such as the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control.
SCP is also a large provider of continuing medical education services, which are represented in Medscape. Journal articles that supply CE credit are flagged, and a separate CE section describes programs and materials.
Patient information has a dual purpose, both as a source of layperson-level information that physicians can hand over to patients and for direct use by consumers themselves. The section contains dozens of brief articles on diseases and treatments of wide consumer interest. It is not on the scale of full-size, consumer health/medical services such as Information Access Company's Health Reference Center or the Health Channel on America Online, which are much larger and more comprehensive.
Medscape's journal articles and related material, including news department stories and non-article journal content such as columns and editorials, are grouped in 23 broad medical topics. The articles are given full Web treatment. Illustrations, including color photographs, are plentiful and "zoomable" - they initially appear in icon form and can be clicked to full size. (Graphics throughout Medscape are kept low-key out of consideration for members with underpowered equipment. …