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 PubMed?

The PubMed database was developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) at the National Library of Medicine (NLM). It provides free access to MEDLINE, NLM's database of more than 21 million bibliographic citations and abstracts in the fields of medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, health care systems, and preclinical sciences.

Note: PubMed also includes access to additional selected life sciences journals not in MEDLINE, and links to the full-text of articles at participating publishers' Web sites and the molecular biology databases maintained by NCBI. (This module considers only the MEDLINE resources in PubMed.)

Getting Started with PubMed

In our case studies, Cheryl is researching exercise therapy for the treatment of diabetes. At this point she needs peer-reviewed journal articles on this topic. PubMed is an excellent place for her to search.

Accessing PubMed

Always access PubMed through a UNC Chapel Hill Libraries web page so that you will see the Find @ UNC button. You can access PubMed from the HSL home page and from many of HSL's guides. Or, go through the UNC Libraries E-Research by Discipline page.

Basic Searching

You can search for articles by using keywords or combining keywords through Boolean style searching. PubMed looks for words in the record as well as for MeSH (Medical Subject) subject headings [more about MeSH].

To run a simple search, enter keywords into the search box, connected with AND, OR, or NOT (ALL CAPS!) as appropriate. For example, Cheryl is looking for articles about diabetes and exercise and teenagers, so she will type diabetes AND exercise AND teenagers in the search box.

Find @ UNC in PubMed

Always connect to PubMed from UNC-CH Library pages so you will see the Find @ UNC button.

Find @ UNC button

When you retrieve more than one article, the Find @ UNC button does not appear in PubMed's default display.

To see more information about an individual article:

  • Click on the article title link.

  • The Find @ UNC button is in the upper right-side of the screen when you view an individual article's abstract.

To see more information about all the articles

  • Use the Summary drop down to change the Format to Abstract for all the articles in the results set. The Find @ UNC button will be at the bottom of each abstract.

Use the Find @ UNC button to go to the online article. When you are off-campus you will be prompted to enter your Onyen / Password the first time you go to a full-text article.

When the article is not online via Find @ UNC, a page with other ways to get the article is displayed.

It is always worth trying a quick Google search to see if the article is freely available. Find @ UNC is not able to point to all of those and we are consistently surprised  by what we find freely available online.

Using the Journals Database

Many journals indexed by PubMed are held by UNC Libraries. To check for a title not available in full text through PubMed, look it up in the catalog.

For example, Cheryl found a citation to an article in 'Coron Artery Dis.' Now she needs to know the full title so she can look for the journal in the library catalog. First she clicks on the Journals in NCBI Databases link under More Resources on the PubMed homepage.

Access the Journals database from the PubMed homepage

Then she types the abbreviation Coron Artery Dis in the search box and clicks Go. The full title is Coronary Artery Disease.

Journal record in PubMed

Verifying Citations

Sometimes you may only have part of a citation. The citation matcher helps you find the full citation.

If you only know part of the citation, click on Single Citation Matcher under PubMed tools on the homepage and enter the citation into the form provided by the Single Citation Matcher to find the full citation. This may yield no results, but entering what you have will produce a list of citations that can be matched to your information need.

Single Citation Matcher

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