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By David Mendosa

Last Update: February 9, 2011

Maybe there are some diseases where you don't need to know anything more than what your doctor tells you. But diabetes isn't one of them, since only you can control it.

You can learn a lot about diabetes here and elsewhere on the Web. But for many questions you need to read the original journal articles.

You can stay as up-to-date as your doctor.

The problem is where do you start? The solution is MEDLINE.

MEDLINE is a service of the U.S. Government's National Library of Medicine. The NLM is the world's largest research library in a single scientific and professional field. It created its computer-based Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLARS) in the early 1960s to make bibliographic publications and to allow searches of the literature. MEDLARS has become a family of databases of which the MEDLINE (MEDlars onLINE) database is the best known.

MEDLINE is the NLM's premier bibliographic database covering the fields of medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, the health care system, and the preclinical sciences. It contains bibliographic citations and author abstracts from more than 3,900 current biomedical journals published in the United States and 70 foreign countries and has more than 9 million records.

For years MEDLINE was available to individuals only through expensive subscriptions or libraries. I remember travelling to the NLM in Bethesda, Maryland, in the early 1970s to research a biomedical question there.

Now MEDLINE is available free on the Web. The big breakthrough came last June when the NLM created PubMed.

PubMed provides immediate access to all abstracts published since 1966, when MEDLINE began. It also includes PREMEDLINE, which provides basic citation information and abstracts that have just been published before they can be put into MEDLINE itself.

The availability of PREMEDLINE from PubMed gives it an advantage over the dozens of other sites that offer MEDLINE—with one exception. That exception is MedFetch.

MedFetch is a new and different way to access MEDLINE and PREMEDLINE. With its Automated MEDLINE Query (AMQ) you can create and run your own query repeatedly. For example, you can search for all new citations about diabetes, and abstracts of these articles will arrive by e-mail.

MedFetch just made a major software upgrade that allows searches to be delivered in real-time to your e-mail address immediately after they are created. The follow-up searches are then run weekly or monthly, according to the frequency you select.

"The first search goes back 45 days and sends all matched citations," writes Webmaster Jim Sullivan. "Each is databased so next time the search is run only new citations are mailed out."

Beyond that, Mr. Sullivan was tight-lipped about what he's doing. "On the advice of a patent attorney I am unable to grant an interview," he wrote me. "Once a patent has been filed, I will let you know. My hope is to give the whole site to the NLM. It should be offered to everyone and it should remain free."

Another excellent new front end to MEDLINE is BioMedNet's Evaluated MEDLINE. "A really important aspect of Evaluated MEDLINE is linking, and this is actually what gives it its name," writes Product Manager Matthew Cockerill from London, England, BioMedNet's headquarters. "Not only are items in Evaluated MEDLINE linked to the online fulltext wherever possible, but also where an item has been cited by a paper on BioMedNet you will see this as a link that will display links to the items that cite the article concerned."

These are only three of the best ways to access MEDLINE. I review the other sites that provide free access in On-line Diabetes Resources Part 10: MEDLINE Web sites.

Of course, all of these MEDLINE sites offer only abstracts of the journal articles. Is that a problem? Not really, because these sites allow you to order the full text of the articles for a few dollars each.

And if even that is too much, you can do what I usually do. After finding the abstract of articles that sound useful, whenever possible I go to my nearby university or hospital library to read and copy the articles. When those libraries don't carry the journals I'm looking for, I have often been successful at obtaining them free on inter-library loan through my local library.

This means you can stay as up-to-date as your doctor. And you need to, if diabetes is your disease. 


February 9, 2011
New Biomedical Literature Resource
Biomedical Search has all NIH's PubMed documents, plus patents and thousands of other full-text journals are being added shortly, which will make it the most comprehensive FREE search around.

The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.

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