Magazine article Information Today

Medical Search Engines: Part II

Magazine article Information Today

Medical Search Engines: Part II

Article excerpt

The good news is that the already vast amount of medical information on the Internet is growing and diversifying. The bad news is that the already vast amount of medical information on the Internet is growing and diversifying. Every month on the most disorganized library in the world, it becomes more challenging to sift through the good, the bad, and the ugly to find the content you are looking for at that moment.

Traditional search engines don't focus on medical sites. Valuable sites are overlooked or not updated in the index; lowquality sites get the same (it often seems like more) presence in the results lists. Medical hotlists aren't having much more success. The much respected Emory University MedWeb, for example, appears to be overwhelmed (and overwhelming).

Slipping into this organizational vacuum is a new breed of tool, the Medical Search Engine. Today, an AltaVista search for "medical search engine" yielded a results list 523 links long. As described in this space in October, medical search engines come in various flavors that range from unqualified medical hotlists with search front-ends to indexes of documents with MeSH filters. Which of these are worth visiting? Answering that question is the goal of this column and its October predecessor.

HealthAtoZ.com

HealthAtoZ (http://www.healthatoz. com) is the medical hotlist portion of Cybermedconnect, one of the excellent professional medical resources on the Net.

Search HealthAtoZ (or browse the hierarchy) and you'll find a refreshingly helpful approach to Internet medical resources. Results are ranked according to a reliable site review (not all sites are reviewed, but many are), categorized according to patient or professional interest or both, linked to a related level in the topical index, and listed with a reasonably accurate paragraph description of the site. There may be a little too much reliance on what the sites say about themselves in these descriptions, but overall the quality is good.

The "balloon angioplasty" search I've been using during this medical search engine review netted 15 results, most of which actually dealt with balloon angioplasty (imagine that!). Most links are to home pages, but a few point to specific documents. There was a mix of consumer and professional links, with the former predominating. My companion "prostatitis" search yielded 18 hits on prostatitis. All were consumer focused this time.

HealthAtoZ is clearly working to keep up with the growth of the Net; both of these searches had half this number of hits when I ran them 2 months ago. Still, there are a lot of solid clinical resources that are missing in HealthAtoZ.

While the emphasis is too consumeroriented (reflecting the Web in general) to make it my first choice, the reviews are helpful, the site's developers are reliable, and you won't get bombarded with sites hyping bad or unproven advice or personal services.

All in all, I'd recommend HealthAtoZ as a nicely formatted, reviewed, and annotated hotlist that has taken pains to remain up-to-date. I would confidently distribute the URL to patients needing guidance on Web resources. And I would use this site myself when looking for consumer information and possibly as a quick check to broaden searches I'd run elsewhere.

Medis Search

Medis Search (http://www.docnet.org. uk/medis-frames.html) is a unique search engine whose only job is to index articles from journals that have content online. Currently, the list of indexed journals contains 72 titles, which include BMJ, NEJM, JAMA, Ann Intern Med, Evidence Based Medicine, ACP Journal Club, the entire list of Archives titles from the AMA, Bandolier-Evidence-based Health Care, Medscape, Medical Sciences Bulletin, a score of medicine and science titles from Oxford University Press, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and a handful of other specialty journals. That the list is this long is a strong indicator of where the Web is going in terms of professional medical information. …

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