Jun 29

MLA News: Third-Party PubMed Tools


I was so excited to see my recent Expert Searching column in the June/July MLA News that I forgot to mention it here!

Rothman D. A selection of useful third-party PubMed tools. MLA News 2007 Jun-Jul; 397:12,24

If you’re an MLA member, click here and log in with your MLA user ID and password.

Jun 28

Freebase.com (alpha) invitations [All gone!]

[EDIT] I’m out of invites- but do check out Freebase when you get a chance! [/EDIT]

So I’m in on the alpha of Freebase.com and have a couple of invitations to give away.

It would be interesting for any Web enthusiast to check out, but would be especially exciting if you’re a developer who likes to play with APIs. Does that sound like you?

The first two people who drop me an email at the address on this blog’s right sidebar will get an invitation.

What’s Freebase.com? Think of it as a Wikipedia for structured data with powerful API tools that’ll let you build applications from it. It appears to be insanely cool.

Free + Database = Freebase
It’s about film, sports, politics, music, science and everything else all connected together. Our contributors are collecting data from all over the internet to build a massive, collaboratively-edited database of cross-linked data. It’s a big job and we’re just getting started.

Jun 28

Symptom Checker at About.com (Online Dx Tool)

Just stumbled across another Online Dx Tool, the About.com Symptom Checker, which seems to have been created by Harvard Medical School.

Like a couple of others, this tool can be be navigated by clicking on a map of the human body:


My playing around with it resulted in a message that was funny to someone as easily amused as I am:

Other posts about Online Dx Tools

Jun 27

Dissection Videos

Kind of unusual for this blog, but I’m not posting any screen captures for this site.

The site, created by the Department of Anatomy at the University of Wisconsin – Madison Medical School, contains cadaver dissection images and videos which, although not a problem for some readers, might disturb others.

Here’s the URL: http://www.anatomy.wisc.edu/courses/gross/

Jun 26

WikiHealthCare: The Joint Commission Wiki

Yep. The Joint Commission has a Wiki. This brings the List of Medical Wikis up to a count of 50.

WikiHealthCare is The Joint Commission’s interactive forum for health care professionals. It is designed to enable and encourage discussion and collaboration among all users for the purpose of improving health care quality. While The Joint Commission provides the forum, users of the site control its content. Please see the Disclaimer for additional details.


In order to participate, you must Register. After you have registered, your own unique user page will be created. This page will include links to introductory materials and instructions on how to use the site (i.e., search for, create and/or edit site content). Please review the Policies and Guidelines before you create topics or edit existing topics on the site. You may also want to become familiar with the editing process by practicing in the Sandbox.

An announcement posted to the Joint Commission ListServ added:

One final note: For some users, the concept of “freely” participating on a website that is sponsored by The Joint Commission may create some anxiety. This is understandable, but be assured that your participation within this collaborative forum has NO impact upon your organization’s accreditation status. All users participate as individuals, not as representatives of their organization.

Jun 26

Social Search for Health Librarians [Edited]

It seems as if everything I’ve tried to write in the last couple of weeks is an exercise in contrariness. I apologize in advance.

Eugene Barsky and Allan Cho have an article in the current issue of the Journal of the Canadian Health Libraries Association, Introducing Web 2.0: social search for health librarians.

It’s great that Eugene and Allan gently introduce resources like YouTube and Flickr to Canadian health libraryfolk, but I find myself uncomfortable with their calling these resources “social search tools.”

I’ll attempt below to explain in simple terms what I understand a social search tool to be and offer some examples you can try.

So what’s “social search”?

Wikipedia has as good a definition as any:

A social search engine is a type of search engine that determines the relevance of search results by considering the interactions or contributions of users.

Get the idea? When Google returns your search results, these results are ordered by the PageRank algorithmCheck out this excellent recent article for a long, complex, and good explanation of PageRank, which notes (among other things) how many other Web pages link to each search result. The more Web pages link to a search result, the higher up the list of results it’ll appear. (Note to geeks: Yes, I know this is a dramatic oversimplification)

A social search engine puts this aside and asks itself: What have users liked when they searched for this topic? The more other users have indicted they liked the result, the higher up the list of results it’ll appear.

If YouTube and Flickr aren’t social search tools, what are they?

YouTube and Flickr are searchable collections of user-created content. In the case of Flickr, users upload and tag images that others can search. In the case of YouTube, users upload and tag video that others can search. Searching social content is not, in my thinking, the same thing as “social search.”

Is del.icio.us a social search engine?

You could call it that and not be wrong- but I don’t call it that. I haven’t been able to find any documentation on how del.icio.us sorts its search results, but Iit appears that the number of times a URL has been saved DOES figure into it…so it is accurate to say that searching del.icio.us is a kind of “social search,” but I wouldn’t call del.icio.us a “social search engine” because it is so much more than that. (I looooooooove del.icio.us.)

What about Google Custom Search Engines? Are they social search tools?

Some of ’em are, but most of ’em aren’t. Google Custom Search Engines are really pretty simple: Each uses Google’s engine, but its creator get to decide from which sites the CSE will return results. When I made the Consumer Health and Patient Education Information Search Engine I restricted it just to the sites that were recommended for consumer health information by the NLM or CAPHIS. Why don’t we call it a social search engine? Because there’s no social component. A single individual (me) plugged in which sites to include and set it out to be used. It sorts search results by Google’s PageRank, just like regular Google. Heck, even if I tweaked the way it sorts results, it still wouldn’t be social because I’d be the only one controlling it.

But a Google CSE could be social. When you create a CSE, you can invite others to add sites from which the CSE will return results or even place a form on its front page by which users can request access to add their input. In that sense, a Google CSE could be called social….

…but would I want to open up my CSE to be tweaked by anyone?

That depends on your goals and asks one of the most important questions about “social software.” Like a lot of social software, the value of social search is significantly impacted by who is participating. In the same way that AskDrWiki and Ganfyd have more value because they limit participation to licensed clinical professionals, some very specialized kinds of social search might similarly benefit from restricting participation to only expert contributors. If we take a look at the Google CSE that Alan and Eugene give as an example, we find out that (with good reason) it isn’t social at all and is maintained by one person:

There’s nothing wrong with a good CSE that is only created by one person- but it is mistaken to call it an example of social search.

So what are some good examples of social search engines?

Here are three:


URL.com retrieves the top ten results for your search terms in Google, Yahoo and MSN, then lets the users rate how appropriately ranked they are.

Click thumbnail for larger screen capture


Sproose is sort of a cross between Google and Digg. You run your search, then vote for the results which you think are best.

Phil Bradley on Sproose

Eurekster Swickis

A Swicki is sort of like a Google CSE, but a lot more social in that it learns how better to sort search results based on the activity of users, even if the users aren’t specifically seeking to tweak it.

Is Social Search for Medical Libraries?

Sure. The library staff might make their own collaboratively-created Google CSE or Swicki of favorite, subject-specific sites (or have a CSE generated from a del.icio.us account’s links). Librarians should seek to be familiar with technologies for finding and organizing online information and social search is not likely going to go away as an idea any time soon.

My bottom line is that when it comes to health information for healthcare professionals, social models are only worthwhile if participation is restricted to those whose input is qualified. The Google Health Co-op, after all, is just a large-scale Google CSE where the invited 26 participating organizations are expert in healthcare information.

What am I missing?

Are there other ways social search tools can be used in medical libraries? Do you have any favorites? Please leave a comment and let me know.

Further reading:

Melissa L. Rethlefsen looks at social search engines, where search is heading, and what it means for librarians

Melissa is a Web-savvy medical librarian and I read everything she publishes. This article gives a very nice overview of a few social search tools.

Jun 25

More on NEJM’s “Clinical Decisions” Feature

The New England Journal of Medicine’s new social feature, Clinical Decisions, has closed its call for feedback and posted the results.

You can also view the results by country with this interactive map.

White coat Notes (a Boston Globe blog) notes that Journal voters stray from the evidence.

Readers were given three choices to vote on. When the 6,085 votes from 113 countries were counted, two of the three choices were almost a tie, with only eight votes separating them. But the winner, with 37.5 percent of the votes, was not the choice consistent with what the two studies concluded…

Jun 25

Who ARE you (smart, discerning, attractive…) people?

Last week I asked that readers take a minute to anonymously answer a single survey question because I was curious about the makeup of this blog’s readership. The survey has been up since 6/15/07 and has perhaps received votes from enough participants (154) to indicate some general trends about the readership of this blog. Here’s the breakdown of how readers who participated describe their professions:

So this would seem to indicate that the readers of this blog are mostly (120 of 154, ~78%) libraryfolk…

…and most of those libraryfolk (92 of 120, ~77%) are medical libraryfolk. This all seems reasonable and makes sense. Thank you very much to those 154 kind people who took a minute to help indulge my curiosity!

Jun 24

EBM Page Generator

Provided by the Dartmouth Biomedical Libraries, Dartmouth College and the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, Yale School of Medicine, the EBM Page Generator looks like a wonderful tool to help a medical library create an EBM page on its intranet, even without extensive Web development skills.

Welcome to the EBM Page Generator!

Let us help you create your own EBM web page with your resources for your website. Once you’ve gone through the process, you’ll end up with the code to export to your own web site.

In five simple steps, your library can select the resources it has available and wishes to include, plug in the appropriate URLs, then copy and paste the code it generates into the appropriate intranet page.

Click here for an example of the kind of page you can make with this tool.

This is a great idea, implemented very nicely.

Hat tip: Ratcatcher’s del.icio.us favorites

Jun 23

Women’s Heath News Now Accredited By Health On The Net Foundation

Women’s Health News, written by medical librarian Rachel Walden, MLIS, is now accredited by the Health On the Net Foundation.

Women’s Health News has received accreditation from the Health on the Net Foundation, which certifies that the site complies with a set of standards for trustworthy health information on the web. You’ll see the “HONCode” logo in the right sidebar, and can always click on the image to verify this site’s status; accredited sites pledge to continue following HON standards.

Congratulations, Rachel!

Perhaps this is something that many who blog on healthcare topics should think about pursuing.

Jun 22

Search Strategies in Ovid Syntax and the PubMed translation

Check out this page from McMaster University’s Health Information Research Unit

For each purpose category (therapy, diagnosis, prognosis, reviews, clinical prediction guides, qualitative, causation (etiology), costs, economics), the following data are shown: the single term with the highest sensitivity while keeping specificity at ³ 50%; the single term with the highest specificity while keeping the sensitivity ³ 50%; the single term with the least (minimal) absolute difference between sensitivity and specificity; and then the same data for multiple terms (the single term strategy may be shown again if it performs at least as well as multiple terms). In the second column of the table the search strategies are shown in Ovid syntax followed by the PubMed translation. In the third column of the table: sens = sensitivity; spec = specificity; prec = precision; acc = accuracy. References for the methods and individual categories appear at the end of the document.

Jun 22

Admitt.com (Digg for Medical Literature, Part IX)

Created by Dr. Henry Wei, Admitt.com is another “Digg for Medical Literature” which, like Medinews, is built with the Pligg content management system.

Dr. Wei tells me via email that he’s hoping to cultivate a “digg-like irreverent attitude,” which sounds like it would be fun.

Related Posts

Jun 21

LibWorm Booked (and other announcements)

LibWorm Booked
My copy of Phil Bradley’s How to Use Web 2.0 in Your Library arrived recently and it was loads of fun to find LibWorm in the index, mentioned on pages 36-37 and page 201.

Above: Scan from the top of page 37 (Chapter Three: Weblogs). I figure that Phil won’t mind my reproducing the image he kindly asked our permission to reproduce- but Facet or Phil should please let me know if this is a problem and I’ll take it right down.

It might make me look foolish, but I can’t really contain how (perhaps inappropriately) pleased I am that the tool Frankie and I created is mentioned in a book authored by a Web guru like Phil and published by CILIP (Facet)

Performance improvement
As LibWorm’s database grows and usage increases, we’re noticing (as you may have) that performance is slowing down and searches take longer to run. More RAM has just been installed on its server and you’ll notice that searches are now running MUCH more quickly.

Optimized code, New Features
LibWorm’s code is also being optimized to further enhance performance and will soon have new features that have already been installed on MedWorm.

But enough about us- How are YOU?
Please remember to share your thoughts on LibWorm with us! Compliments, complaints and suggestions for improvement/enhancement/features are cheerfully welcomed.

Jun 21

Critiquing Review of Health Search at AltSearchEngines

The brand-new AltSearchEngines blog is off to a great start and I absolutely encourage libraryfolk to subscribe to it.

One of the problems with writing about a specialized kind of search engine is that to do so requires specialized knowledge. AltSearchEngines faces this challenge every day.

A recent post at AltSearchEngines seeks to overcome this problem in writing about health search by soliciting notes on a few sites by a cardiologist and a cardiology nurse.

I love the idea of the post, but not the post itself.

Who did the reviewing

What follows is just general feedback from one nurse and one doctor. Ask ten doctors how they feel about alt search engines, and you may get ten different answers.

It was generous and gracious of a physician and nurse to provide feedback, but they’re not expert in finding and evaluating health information. Physicians and nurses are expert in diagnosing and treating illness. If you want a professional who is expert in finding and evaluating medical information, seek out a medical librarian. If I wanted to solicit expert views on health search engines, I’d set up a poll and send an invitation to members of the MEDLIB-L listserv. I’m not saying that there aren’t physicians and nurses who are expert in searching for health information- I’m saying that their professional training doesn’t require it. Medical librarians, on the other hand, spend most of their time finding and evaluating health information.


The first observation that Dr. Binder and my wife made is that some search engines are designed to be used by Health Care Professionals (HCP); doctors and nurses. They simply are not intended to be used by non-medical people like you or me. Other search engines, however, are clearly targeted for health consumers or patients.

Absolutely true and extremely important- but after pointing out that tools for healthcare professionals are apples and tools for consumer healthcare information are oranges, the post goes on to compare them anyway. We all know what they say about comparing apples to oranges.

The post should have been broken up into at least two posts: one on search tools for health care professionals and one on search tools for consumer healthcare information. There are of course multiple categories within each of those, but the bottom line is that online health information search tools are far too varied to be usefully compared all at once. I hope that in the future AltSearchEngines will compare health information search tools of similar types in smaller groups.

What kind of feedback?
The expert views of a physician and nurse were summed up by listing tools that they “liked.” That’s interesting to know, but tells us nothing useful. We don’t learn what they liked about each of these tools, or what each tool might best be used for in their view.

Suggested reading

Jun 20

Online Illnesses

Ratcatcher’s del.icio.us favorites point out this great item from WIRED:

The AMA recently suggested that perhaps gaming addiction should be considered as a sub-category of internet addiction. This is a step in the right direction. Clearly “internet addiction” doesn’t begin to cover the realm of bizarre and pathological behaviors the internet inspires. Herewith a list of afflictions and syndromes I feel should be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV, or perhaps the DSM IV.Ib.

Disorders include:

  • Narcissistic Blog Disorder
  • Bookmark Loop Disorder
  • E-mail Gullibility Syndrome
  • Atemporal Fad Disorder
  • Pugilistic Discussion Syndrome
  • Amusement Identify Disorder

Read it here.

Jun 20

CNN on Sermo’s “Cashing in”

CNN article: Cashing in on doctors’ thinking

The company is already pulling in about $500,000 in revenue a month — in a most unusual fashion. It doesn’t get a penny from advertising, job listings, or membership fees. Rather, it makes its money by charging institutional investors for the opportunity to listen in as doctors chat among themselves.

“Cashing in” sort of implies something shady or dishonest, doesn’t it? If Sermo makes this very clear to users, is there something unethical about this business model?

Hat tips: Kevin, M.D. and PharmaGossip

Previous posts about Social Networks for Clinicians

Jun 20

UK Social Network for Physicians: Doctors.net.uk


Doctors.net.uk is the largest, most active medical network in the UK. Created by doctors for doctors, it is now the most popular, trusted medical channel enabling communication to and between 144,369 doctors, all day every day


Previous posts about Social Networks for Clinicians

Jun 19

Our Hospital’s President and CEO Has a Blog!

Some hospital libraries have to fight pretty hard to make upper management see the value of “Web 2.0” tools like blogs.

Well, it took very little convincing before Tom Quinn, President and CEO of Community General Hospital (my place of work), decided he should start one.

I’m very pleased to announce Tom’s blog: More Than Medicine

Feed URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/MoreThanMedicine

Welcome to the blogosphere, Tom!