Finding Health Information: A Path Through the Maze

This tutorial gives you an overview of key basic concepts and techniques for accessing health information using several online tools and databases.

What is MedlinePLUS?

MedlinePlus is a free, public online source provided by the National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus offers health information in non-technical, understandable language. You do not need to be a health professional to use it productively, although it is used by many health providers.

MedlinePlus contains carefully selected links to online health information resources. In addition, links to pre-formulated searches of the MEDLINE database via PubMed allow you to find references to the most recent articles on a topic. MedlinePlus also contains two drugs, supplements, and herbs information resources: AFHS Consumer Medication Information and Natural Standard.

In our case studies, Rob is interested in finding general information about allergies, particularly about drug treatments. MedlinePlus is an excellent resource for Rob to explore because he will find non-technical articles and websites about this topic.

Getting Started with MedlinePlus

Find MedlinePlus at http://medlineplus.gov

You can also get to MedlinePlus from the Health Sciences Library Databases page.

The main categories of MedlinePlus information appear on the left side of the screen (Health Topics, Drug & Supplements, Videos & Tools, and Medical Encyclopedia). Health Topics and Drugs & Supplements are good sources for quickly finding information by topic or by drug name.

Searching MedlinePLUS Health Topics

Clicking on Health Topics allows you to find health topics by letter or by broad group. (Note: you could also use the Search box, but it is generally more effective to use Health Topics.)

MedlinePLUS Health Topics main page

For example, Rob is interested in information about allergies, so he clicks 'A' to see the MedlinePlus topics that start with that letter:

Health Topics by alphabetical listing

Rob scrolls through the alphabetical list of topics until he finds Allergy. Clicking the topic link opens a page of links to information about the topic, including overviews, latest news, symptoms, treatment, ongoing research, and links about specific conditions or demographics.

Health Topics > Allergies

Drug & Herbal Information

Clicking on Drugs & Supplements (either on the MedlinePlus main page menu or on the Drugs & Supplements tab) allows you to search for information about a drug, herb, or supplement by name.

Searching for drugs is very similar to searching for health topics. Select the appropriate letter range for the drug in which you are interested, then scroll through the list until you find it.

Drugs & Supplements homepage

For instance, Rob may be interested in the allergy drug Flonase. He would first click 'F', then scroll through to find Flonase. He can click on the generic name of Flonase, Fluticasone Nasal Spray, to read basic information about the drug, including indications of when and how the drug should or should not be used, how to store it, and what side effects may be caused by the drug.

Drugs & Supplements alphabetical listing

Drugs & Supplements item page

Support Research, Teaching, & Learning - Give to the HSL