Aug 18

Searching for Consumer Health Information

A recent post on Medlib-L by Joy Kennedy pointed out a really interesting Curbside Consultation article from American Family Physician (authored, interestingly, by the Editor-in-Chief of DynaMed, Dr. Brian S. Alper) about the growing practice of patients seeking out health information on the web, and even using it to suggest diagnoses to their doctors.

Ideally, patients and physicians work together to determine the best course of action. The Internet provides patients with opportunities to become more self-informed and may help promote this shared decision-making approach. A Health On the Net Foundation survey of Internet users showed that the Internet helped 91 percent of survey participants become better “partners” with their physicians. However, the Internet also may provide patients with advice that is inaccurate, misleading, and counterproductive. Physicians may suggest professional Web sites or offer guidance on information seeking. [Hyperlink inserted in place of footnote]

It is a clear, digestible article that I think raises most of the right questions, but it only scratched the surface of the related issues. If the topic interests you, don’t miss these posts from Dean Giustini on Consumer Health search portals:

For any readers who don’t work in medical librarianship:
If you have to choose ONE place to start looking for consumer health information online, make it MedlinePlus. (If any MedLib folks disagree with this advice, I’d be pleased to post any arguments to the contrary.)

Here’s the list I have so far of free consumer health information search portals:

I must be missing at least a few, right?

Aug 16

Why RSS is an Even Bigger Deal

From Ben Werdmuller:

In a few months, Windows Internet Explorer 7 will automatically install itself on most of your machines as part of a Windows Update task. The politics of this aside, what that will mean is that the majority of Internet-connected users will have an RSS aggregator as an integral part of their web browser of choice. A friendly interface will let them know when a site they are browsing has an associated feed, and will allow them to subscribe to it should they wish. With no extra software to download and the scary XML source code permanently hidden from view, usage should explode.

Oh boy, is this a good point. “Selling” RSS is likely to get a lot easier when the browser most of your patrons use makes handling feeds easy.

More on IE7 and RSS:

From Microsoft

From Others

Aug 16

Cartoon Medicine Show

I wish I could go see this– I’d love to see these cartoons.

From the silent era to the present, physicians, health professionals, governmental agencies, like the U.S. Public Health Service, and voluntary associations, such as the American Cancer Society, have sought to use motion pictures to advance medical science, train doctors and nurses, and educate the public.

“The Cartoon Medicine Show: Animated Cartoons from the Collection of the National Library of Medicine,” curated by Michael Sappol of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), will feature a rich sampling of rarely screened animated medical cartoons from the 1920s to the 1960s.

The film series will present a variety of medical themes and genres, including dental hygiene, physical fitness, physiology, mental health, malaria, venereal disease, cancer, radiology, biological warfare, and sanitary food preparation. Each evening will consist of 10 to15 short animated medical cartoons by animators both obscure and well-known, including Walt Disney, Friz Freleng, Zack Schwartz, Walter Lantz, and Shamus Culhane.

Distinguished film historian Donald Crafton and medical historians Michael Sappol and David Cantor will provide commentary. Donald Crafton is chair of the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Before Mickey: The Animated Film, 1898-1928 (MIT Press, 1984). Michael Sappol is a curator-historian at the NLM. His scholarly work focuses on the cultural history of the body, the history of anatomy, the history of medical illustration, and the history of medicine in film. He is the author of A Traffic of Dead Bodies (Princeton University Press, 2002). NLM historian David Cantor is the editor of Reinventing Hippocrates (Ashgate, 2002). His scholarly work focuses on the history of twentieth-century medicine, most recently the history of cancer.

Posted in Fun
Aug 16

DynaMed is…social?

I have been trying out a trial access to EBSCO’s DynaMed for a few weeks, and have to say that I really like whole a lot about it. The new interface is a huge improvement over the previous design (much easier on the eyes), I’m finding a number of things I couldn’t find in UpToDate, and I really like the way articles are organized for easy browsing, searching, and skimming.

But here’s the thing that interests me most:

At the bottom of the Content panel on the left side of the page while reviewing an article is a link for Topic Comment.

Clicking this link takes one to a page with the following fields:

  • Your Name:
  • Your Title:
  • Name of Institution:
  • Date (autofilled)
  • Subject
  • Add my comment to this topic

…then there’s a comment field.

I really like the “social” nature of this feature. It appears that these comments can have two potential uses: either to provide feedback to DynaMed, or to offer your comments to other users.

From the Help section of DynaMed:


You can add your comments (questions, suggestions, information) to the database.

General Comments can be added from various DynaMed pages. Topical Comments can be added only from the Summary pages. You can indicate whether you want to make your comments publicly available by clicking on the radio button Add my comment to this topic. Topic Summaries and General Comments will be posted by the DynaMed editors.

I think I really like this. Not only does it show a vendor inviting perpetual conversation with the product’s users, but it leverages the expertise of the user base to enhance the product.

Related Links:

Recent conversation from MEDLIB-L regarding DynaMed

Review of DynaMed from the JMLA

Aug 15

How Podcasts Will Get Cooler

While some podcasts might be useful for some clinicians in some circumstances, I think that text is, and will likely always be, king.

Text is searchable. It can be browsed or skimmed quickly. Most clinicians (and most people) can read more words per minute than comfortably listen to in the same time. Clinicians making use of medical libraries are usually looking for some very specific information.

That being said, here’s how I think Podcasts will get cooler, and better for medical purposes:.

Eventually, the metadata of an audio file (any audio file) should contain not just a text transcript of the audio content, but searchable transcript, indexed to minutes and seconds of the audio. Lets say you want to download the latest Library 2.0 Gang podcast specifcally because you want to hear the first thing Michael Stephens has to say on the topic du jour. You should be able to search the Podcast for the word “Stephens”, select the first first hit in the returned search results, and be taken instantly to the first moment in the audio when the word “Stephens” is spoken.

Imagine the usefulness of such a feature for a clinician attempting to find specific details in a podcast he/she has downloaded.

Audio content producers will need to bundle transcripts/lyrics into the metadata of the audiofile, and playback devices need to be able to search them. I doubt this functionality is far away.

Michelle Kraft (who is in my mind a guru of medical podcasts- see links at the bottom of this post) has repeatedly and rightly raised the issue of the need for a catalogue or searchable index of medical podcasts.

Thanks to T. Scott Plutchak’s comment at the Krafty Librarian, we know that the cataloging of medical pocasts is on the radar of the NLM. Imagine how helpful the ability to search the text of podcast transcriptions would be to those good folks at the NLM who will eventually be responsible for cataloging podcasts.

Then there’s the cool factor- Imagine that you KNOW one of the songs on your iPod has the lyrics, “I listen to the Clash”- but you don’t remember which band or song. How cool would it be if you could search the contents of your iPod by lyrics, and jump instantly to playing the right verse of the right song, Hitchhiker’s Guide, by Speechwriters, LLC. ([Lyrics], [mp3])

More reading on medical podcasting
Michelle Kraft’s poster at MLA ’06
Posts on podcasting at The Krafty Librarian
Michelle Kraft’s list of medical podcasts
Dean Giustini and Jeremiah Saunders on Podcasting

Aug 15

EBSCO Medline full-text

As previously noted, EBSCO is now offering a Medline with Full Text product.

I asked my very helpful contacts at EBSCO for a trial of it and checked it out, making notes about how it compared to PubMed and OVID. I’ve never used an EBSCO clinical database before, but here are a few thoughts.

Search Interface
The EBSCO Medline search interface resembles very much the interface with which I am familiar from use of EBSCO’s MasterFile Select, with some additional limitters and filters:

  • English Language
  • EBM Reviews
  • Review Articles
  • Human
  • Animal
  • Gender
  • Age Related
  • Subject Subset
  • Journal & Citation Subset
  • Publication Type
  • Languages
  • Animals
  • Also search for related words
  • Also search within the full text of the articles
  • Automatically “And” search terms

These are very similar to the filters available in PubMed via the Limits tab, but I find the PubMed interface easier on the eye and more intutive to use.

An OVID side-note:
On one occassion, it occurred to me that I would like our library’s users in nursing to have a limitter they could choose to check in OVID that would limit the search only to nursing journals. After a brief discussion with OVID tech support, they added this limitter to our hospital’s interface inside of a day. I’d be curious to know if EBSCO can create custom filters in the same manner.

Purchasing Options
But the biggest reason that our library won’t be switching to EBSCO from OVID involves purchasing options.

Our library buys access to OVID and a shared list of journals through a consortium, and adds titles ala carte that we want and aren’t purchased by the consortium.

If we were to switch to OVID, we’d have two options to choose from:

  • EBSCO Medline with Full Text
    • 1,014 Full Text Titles
  • EBSCO Medline
    • 179 Full Text Titles

My EBSCO sales rep tells me that titles are not available a la carte, so there’s no option in between these two numbers- and that’s a serious impediment for my library ever going with EBSCO Medline.

I really enjoyed checking it out, though- and can’t wait to check it out again when the search interface is improved and the purchasing options are more flexible.

Aug 14

Library Humor in The Onion

From The Onion

Dewey Decimal System Helpless To Categorize New Jim Belushi Book
August 14, 2006 | Issue 42•33

DUBLIN, OH—Members of the OCLC Online Computer Library Center’s Editorial Policy Committee, which oversees the Dewey Decimal System library classification system, were no closer Monday to assigning a definitive call number to the recently published Jim Belushi book Real Men Don’t Apologize. “With all due respect to the author, we remain unsure how to categorize this particular work,” said committee chair Leslie Buncombe, who, despite repeated readings, still wasn’t sure if Real Men was “an actual book.” “What is it? Autobiography? Self-help? We can’t even tell if it’s fiction or nonfiction,” Added Buncombe: “Too bad it can’t be shelved by its ISBN number. Maybe it’s Fantasy Biography? I don’t even think there’s a code for that.” If no decision is reached within the week, librarians may be forced to shelve it in the “phantom zone” between Jenny McCarthy’s book of marriage tips and novels in which a cat helps solve a mystery.

If you’re not familiar with The Onion and its brand of news parody, see this Wikipedia article.

Posted in Fun
Aug 14

Display RSS Feeds on a Web Page

Over at, there’s a page that lists a good number of tools that can be used to display the contents of an RSS feed on a web page.

However, I noticed that not all of these tools are really for displaying RSS feeds on a web pag. For example, Wotwot is a screen scraper for doing the opposite: turning a web page into a feed (much like Feed43.)

I’ve got some posts planned on why/how to use some of these tools, starting with FeedRoll within the next week.

Aug 14

Library Technology Reports; Web 2.0 and Libraries

Yay! Our copy of the newest Library Technologies Reports arrived, and its chock-full of good stuff.

Although I think it would be especially useful for libraryfolk who are new to these technologies (or to tech-savvy libraryfolk trying to explain these technologies to their administrators), there are enough useful tidbits (and references) in this slim volume to please those who are already familiar and comfortable with “social software” like blogs, wikis, IM, and Flickr.

I plan to go through our copy and mark it up for the stuff I want to do in our library to discuss with our library’s director.

Not only is the content excellent, but Michael Stephens’ writing style makes the content easily accessible to any and all who approach it with an open mind.

If your library has been waiting for the right time and resources to get you started using these sort of tools, here it is.

Aug 14

Tagging blog posts with MeSH

Rachel (of Women’s Health News) and I have a mutual admiration society going. She thinks I don’t suck, (third paragraph from bottom) and I think she’s done something brilliant.

My blog is rarely about medicine, so I’m content with using WordPress categories to organize my posts, but Rachel’s blog is almost always about health issues, so she tags her posts with MeSH, (in addition to her Technorati tags)!

I love the idea of tagging with this controlled vocabulary, and in a recent post, Rachel explains why and how she does it.

Anyone blogging about health or medicine might want to consider doing the same.

There’s a Greasmonkey user script and a couple of Firefox plugins to make inserting Technorati tags into a blogger/blogspot blog easy, but could someone please build Rachel a Firefox extension to make the insertion of MeSH tags easier for her?

Aug 09

BioWizard: The start of ‘Digg for Medical Literature’?

THIS is a great application of “social software” to a library’s needs. Library 2.0 gang, please take note.

Via Medlib-L, i just became aware of

…the new portal lets users post comments about any PubMed entry. Visitors rank articles, helping you track down the top work in a particular field…

This is the first application I’ve seen of a really good idea that I’ve been discussing with a few people as inevitable and good, Digg for medical literature.

What is Digg?

Digg is a user driven social content website. Ok, so what the heck does that mean? Well, everything on digg is submitted by the digg user community (that would be you). After you submit content, other digg users read your submission and digg what they like best. If your story rocks and receives enough diggs, it is promoted to the front page for the millions of digg visitors to see.

What can you do as a digg user? Lots. Every digg user can digg (help promote), bury (help remove spam), and comment on stories… you can even digg and bury comments you like or dislike. Digg also allows you to track your friends’ activity throughout the site — want to share a video or news story with a friend? Digg it!

(More on how Digg works at their FAQ)

Why should Librarians care about Digg’s model?
Well, imagine this model applied to medical literature and you have something a lot like BioWizard’s PubMed Wizard. Clinicians collectively make the ‘cream’ of recent literature rise to the top- and this makes for a kind of digital journal club where not every clinician has to read every article in order to find the ones that his/her colleagues or peers find worthwhile.
(Above: Screen capture of BioWizard’s ranking scale)

In addition to the rating of an article, registered users can also “Discuss” an article to make or read notes about it- perhaps explaining why they ranked the article as they did.

Work Still to Be Done
BioWizard is a really great first step, but there are more things it (or similar tools) should do:

  • It should allow the creation and administration of a community within which ratings and comments can be made and aggregated.
    • Perhaps a hospital, medical practice, or department wants to focus on their own internal comunity’s rankings.
    • Perhaps a hospital, medical practice, or department wants to focus on their own internal comunity’s rankings.
    • In a hospital library, library staff could help start and facilitate such digital journal clubs, helping to facilitate delivery of article abstracts (perhaps via RSS?) to the appropriate members of the journal club.
  • BioWizard’s “Discuss” comments do not appear to be searchable. If these cannot be made searchable, perhaps a tagging system would be helpful. I have no desire to start an argument about the value of folksonomies, but consider at least that physicians share a common vocabulary to a much greater extent and in much more consistent practice than a group of Flickr users
  • As much as I appreciate the brilliant use of the PubMed API, It occurs to me that there would be great benefit in adding other sources of medical information to the potential discussion. While we’re at it, why not have a parallel service for consumer health literature?

Why can’t this model be applied to legal literature, or the literature of any academic discipline?

No reason. Not one. Git goin’.

Aug 09

RSS in Special Libraries

Joy, the MLIS student who was looking for medical libraries that use RSS for clinician current awareness, has posted some of her notes on the uses of RSS in special libraries at her class group’s blog.

There are some good resources Joy’s group has noted on their blog that are worth checking out, too.

Aug 08

Medical RSS Directories

Very shortly after I started thinking about RSS for clinical current awareness, I decided that I needed to create a searchable, well-organized directory of medical RSS feeds.

Then I found out that others had beaten me to it. Here’s a brief review of four directories of medical RSS feeds.

Created by Frankie Dolan, a UK-based IT engineer with a physician in the family, Medworm is really, really cool.
Medworm logo

  • Medworm ISN’T just a searchable directory of feeds. The last time I asked Frankie about it, Medworm’s database tracked almost two thousand feeds, and kept the last 100 posts of each saved. You can use Medworm to actually search the last hundred posts of the approximately 2000 feeds it tracks.
  • In addition to the feeds you might expect from core journals in medicine, Medworm also tracks feeds from professional and cosumer health news sources (MedScape and the like)
  • Medworm also has pre-set searches by Medical Specialty, common Medical Conditions, as well as sections for Infectious Diseases, and Cancers.
  • You can also sign up for a free account at Medworm, and manage all your subscriptions at the Medworm site and use its web-based aggregator to read your feeds’ content, use the My Clippings feature to save items for later, or quickly email the item to a colleague.
  • Medworm has big plans for additional functionality to help clinicians manage their medical literature needs, but I can’t say much more than that for now.

I just became aware of today via RSSonate. logo

  • The About page is light on details, but the site seems arranged by category and sub-category, mostly by medical specialty.
  • One thing I really like about this site is how each feed in a sub-category has three links: View, XML, and Site. View is the content of the feed parsed by in your browser, XML is the link to the feed itself, and Site is the web page from which the feed URL was collected or the home page of the site that originates the feed.

3. The University of Helsinki’s FeedNavigator
With 1591 feed sources, FeedNavigator approaches the number of feeds in, and seems to significantly exceed the number of feeds at
University of Helsinki logo

  • The navigation is a little awkward, but FeedNavigator lets you set up your own account, save selected feeds to MyFeeds, save selected articles to MyArticles, and export articles to RefWorks.
  • While not especially useful to those of us who aren’t associated with The University of Helsinki, I love that these feeds have SFX links and links by which a user can submit an article to the library for document delivery. These are features that medical libraries would do well to note in designing their own RSS-related services.

4. National Library for Health (UK) – RSS Directory
The UK’s National Library for Health has started a searchable directory of Medical RSS feeds as well. Bless them, they have provided a good bit of information about their service on their About page.

If you know of any other directories for medical RSS feeds or if you’ve used any of the four services noted above, please leave a note in the comments and share your views!

Aug 08

Meet the Medical Librarian Maven!

Yes! Alexia Estabrook has started her new blog about Medical Librarianship, Musings of a Medical Librarian Maven.

Among the things I like about this:

  • Alexia wrote a really good article about RSS in Medical Libraries (Leveraging Real Simple Syndication for Current Awareness) that was published in the Journal of Hospital Librarianship, for which she’s also been a technology editor. Another techie MedLib blogging!
  • Alexia is the president of the Metropolitan Detroit Medical Library Group.
  • Alexia was on-board with the concept of RSS for current awareness (and publicly) well before I was. She’s ahead of the curve.
  • I’ve corresponded with Alexia a bit via email. She strikes me as sharp, awfully nice, and really committed to contributing to her profession’s community.
  • If you subscribe to this blog, The Krafty Librarian, Librarians’Rx, or any of the other blogs listed here, you’ll want to subscribe to Alexia’s blog, too. (Alexia, remember to add your blog to the Wiki list of MedLib blogs, okay?)

    Also: I love the title she chose for her first post. It reminds me of something…

    Please drop Alexia a comment and welcome her to the blogversation. 🙂