How to Find Medical
You May Want More Information
After contacting the National Institute of
Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) or the NIAMS
Information Clearinghouse, you may want to find additional information on a
disease or disorder. Searching for medical information can be confusing,
especially for first-timers. However, if you are patient and stick to it, you
can find a wealth of information. Today's computer technology is making it
easier than ever for people to track down medical and health information.
There are also many other sources of medical information available in
textbooks, journal articles, and reference books and from health care
organizations. This booklet explains how to locate these important sources of
Find Medical Information
- Community library
- Federal Government clearinghouses
- Associations and voluntary organizations
- Medical, hospital, or university libraries
- Personal physician
- Nurse, pharmacist, dietitian, or other health
- Telephone or fax services
- Computer databases
- The Internet
Start With Your
Most people have a library in or near their
community, and it's a good place to start to look for medical information.
Before going to the library, you may find it helpful to make a list of topics
you want information about and questions you have. Also, if you've received a
NIAMS information package, you'll notice the list of additional references at
the end of most articles. You may want to get a copy of some of these
articles. Your topic list and the information package will make it easier for
the librarian to direct you to the best resources.
Basic Medical References
Many community libraries have a collection
of basic medical references. These references may include medical dictionaries
or encyclopedias, drug information handbooks, basic medical and nursing
textbooks, and directories of physicians and medical specialists (listings of
doctors). You may also wish to find magazine articles on a certain topic. Look
in the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature for articles on health
and medicine that were published in consumer magazines.
Infotrac, a CD-ROM computer database
you're most likely to find at a public library, indexes hundreds of popular
magazines and newspapers, as well as some medical journals such as the Journal
of the American Medical Association and New England Journal of Medicine.
Your library may also carry MEDLINE®, Index Medicus, Abridged Index
Medicus, or the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health
Literature in print format or on a computer database. The Consumer
Health and Nutrition Index may be available in print form as well. These
resources will help you find journal articles written for health
professionals. Many of the indexes have abstracts that provide a summary of
each journal article. Articles published in medical journals can be technical,
but they may be the most current source of information on medical topics.
Although most community libraries don't
have a large collection of medical and nursing journals, your librarian may be
able to get copies of the articles you want. Interlibrary loans allow your
librarian to request a copy of an article from a library that carries that
particular medical journal. Your library may charge a fee for this service.
Medical and Health Directories
You may find many useful medical and health
information directories at your library. Ask your librarian about the
- Directory of Physicians in the United States.
Chicago, IL: American Medical Association (AMA) updated yearly-provides
information such as address, medical school attended, year of license,
specialty, and certifications for physicians who are members of the AMA.
- Health Hotlines-a booklet of toll-free numbers
of health information hotlines available from the National Library of
Medicine (NLM) or on the Internet at http://newsis.nlm.nih.gov/hotlines/.
- Medical and Health Information Directory. 9th
edition. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1997-includes publications,
organizations, libraries, and health services (three volumes).
- The Official ABMS Directory of Board Certified
Medical Specialists. New Providence, NJ: Marquis Who's Who, updated
yearly-provides information on physicians certified in various specialties
by the American Board of Medical Specialists.
- Rees, A., editor. The Consumer Health Information
Sourcebook. 5th edition. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1997-lists
information clearinghouses, books, and other resources.
- White, B.J., & Madone, E., editors. The
Self-Help Sourcebook: The Comprehensive Reference of Self-Help Group
Resources. 6th edition. Denville, NJ: Northwest Covenant Medical
Center, 1997-lists over 700 organizations that offer support groups.
* Names of resources and organizations
included in this fact sheet are provided as examples only, and their
inclusion does not mean that they are endorsed by the National Institutes of
Health or any other Government agency. Also, if a particular resource or
organization is not mentioned, this does not mean or imply that it is
If you find a particularly useful book at
the library, you can buy a copy at your local bookstore. If the book isn't in
stock, your bookstore can probably order a copy for you.
Some medical references have been converted
from book form to a CD-ROM or disk for use on a personal computer. If you have
a computer with a CD-ROM drive, color monitor, and sound card, you can use
compact disks to locate medical information. Check with your local bookstore
or computer store for software programs that contain health information.
Popular References for the Home Library
- American Medical Association Complete
Guide to Women's Health. 1996; and American Medical
Association Family Medical Guide. 3rd edition. 1994. New York,
NY: Random House (available in book and CD-ROM format).
- The Columbia University College of
Physicians and Surgeons Complete Home Medical Guide. 3rd
edition. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 1995.
- Everything You Need to Know About
Medical Tests. Springhouse, PA: Springhouse Corporation,
- Johns Hopkins Symptoms and Remedies: The
Complete Home Medical Reference. New York, NY: Medletter
Associates, Inc., 1995.
- Mayo Clinic Family Health. 3rd
edition. New York, NY: William Morrow, Inc., 1997 (available as
a book, CD-ROM, or computer disk).
- The Merck Manual of Medical Information
(Home Edition). Rahway, NJ: The Merck Publishing Group,
- Professional Guide to Disease. 6th
edition. Springhouse, PA: Springhouse Corporation, 1998.
Take Advantage of Services Provided
by the Federal Government and Other Organizations
The Federal Government operates a number of
clearinghouses and information centers-the NIAMS Information Clearinghouse is
one of them. Services vary but may include publications, referrals, and
answers to consumer inquiries. To obtain a free list of Federal information
clearinghouses, visit the National Health Information Center's home page (http://www.health.gov/nhic),
write to P.O. Box 1133, Washington, DC 20013-1133, or call (800) 336-4797.
Associations and Voluntary
Many associations and voluntary
organizations are excellent sources of information. Some are devoted to
specific diseases or conditions, such as the Scleroderma Foundation, National
Alopecia Areata Foundation, National Psoriasis Foundation, and numerous
others. Other organizations, such as the American Association of Retired
Persons, serve a particular population group and provide a variety of
information, including health-related topics. Your librarian or a NIAMS
Information Clearinghouse information specialist can help you locate
appropriate organizations and support networks. Many of these organizations
offer referrals, publications, newsletters, educational programs, and local
support groups. Your doctor may be able to tell you about support groups in
your community as well.
of Health-Related Associations and Organizations
- American Academy of Dermatology
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
- American College of Rheumatology
- American Skin Association
- Arthritis Foundation
- Lupus Foundation of America
There are many more
organizations; call the NIAMS Information Clearinghouse for
Look for a Medical Library
Medical libraries can usually be found at
medical, nursing, and dental schools; large medical centers; and community
hospitals. Not all hospital or academic libraries are open to the public, but
a librarian at your community library may be able to give you information
about the closest medical library open to the public. Medical libraries may
also be listed in your telephone book under "hospitals,"
"schools," or "universities." In addition, you can call
the National Network of Libraries of Medicine of the NLM, National Institutes
of Health, at (800) 338-7657 to find the location of the nearest regional
A medical library has a large collection of
resources, including many medical and nursing textbooks and a comprehensive
collection of medical and health-related journals. Although you may not be
allowed to check out materials, most libraries have photocopiers you can use
to copy material you want to take home.
- Computer databases
- Directories of board-certified medical
- Drug reference books
- Medical and diagnostic laboratory testing
- Medical and health information directories
- Medical dictionaries
- Medical encyclopedias
- Medical, nursing, and allied health
Investigate Other Options for Finding
People who are unable to get to a community
or medical library have several options for finding additional medical
information. Some community libraries provide access to on-line databases that
can be searched from a home computer via a modem. In addition, your doctor,
nurse, pharmacist, dietitian, or the patient education department at your
local hospital may be able to provide you with pamphlets, brochures, and
journal articles or direct you to classes, seminars, and health screenings.
Use Telephone and Fax Services
Some communities have a telephone medical
service that allows callers to listen to audiotapes on certain disease topics.
Also, your health insurance company or health maintenance organization may
have a nurse available to answer health-related questions over the telephone.
If you have access to a fax machine, you can get health information from some
organizations in just a few minutes. If a faxback system is available, use the
telephone on your fax machine to call the faxback number of the organization
and listen to the instructions. In most cases, you can request a list or menu
of information to be sent to you first.
Other organizations also have information
available by fax; one example is the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention at (888) 232-3299 (toll free). Your librarian can help you locate
other fax services.
Explore Computer Databases
The computer has become an important tool
for helping people locate medical and health information quickly and easily.
Most software and information services are user friendly and allow people with
no formal training in computer searching to use databases to obtain
information. Using a computer at home or in the library, you can find health
information by searching CD-ROM databases, searching on-line on the Internet,
or using a health-related software program.
As mentioned earlier, many public libraries
have Infotrac, a database that includes consumer health information. It
indexes popular magazines and newspapers and 2 to 4 years' worth of medical
publications. Medical libraries have more extensive medical databases. Start
with the following list and ask your librarian to help you find the most
appropriate CD-ROM or on-line (Internet) databases for your needs:
- MEDLINE®. The largest and best
known of the MEDLARS databases, MEDLINE® contains citations
and often abstracts for over 9 million articles in 3,900 biomedical
journals on all aspects of biomedicine and allied health fields from 1966
to the present. MEDLINE® is available at medical and
university libraries, at some community libraries, and through a variety
of fee-based and free Internet sites, including the NLM Web site at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/.
- DIRLINE®. This database, a part of
MEDLARS, contains location and description information about a wide
variety of resources, including organizations, research resources,
projects, databases, and electronic bulletin boards concerned with health
and biomedicine. The database is available on-line through the NLM at no
- CHID (Combined Health Information Database).
Developed and managed by health-related agencies of the Federal
Government, this database can help people find information and educational
resources such as brochures, books, and audiovisuals on selected topics.
CHID contains 17 subfiles, including the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and
Skin Diseases subfile. It is available on the Internet at no fee at http://chid.nih.gov/.
Search the Internet
The Internet is a worldwide network of
computers that can exchange information almost instantaneously. The World Wide
Web (abbreviated www in computer addresses), or more simply, the Web, is a
system of electronic documents linked together and available on the Internet
for anyone with a computer, a modem, and an Internet provider account. While
the terms "Internet" and "World Wide Web" are often used
interchangeably, the Web is actually the part of the Internet that supports
the use of graphics, pictures, sound, and even video.
If you have access to the Web, you can find
information on everything from the latest medical research to facts on
particular conditions. You may have access at home or at work to Internet
databases through a commercial service such as America Online or through a
local Internet provider. Many public libraries have computer stations that
provide Internet access.
You'll find extensive health and medical
information on the Internet. America Online and other Internet providers and
sites offer MEDLINE®; some sites may charge a search fee. The Internet also
offers other resources such as bulletin boards, online publications, forums
for discussion of current medical issues, and on-line support groups. For
example, the American Self-Help Clearinghouse offers an on-line version of its
Self-Help Sourcebook at http://mentalhelp.net/selfhelp/.
provides information on support groups and networks available in your
community and throughout the world. The site also provides a link to the
Self-Help Resource Room that contains information about on-line support groups
and other health resources.
Help With Searching on the Internet
Searching for health information on the
Internet can be confusing and difficult. The sheer volume of information can
be overwhelming, and people often find it difficult to narrow down search
topics or find specific Web sites. Although an Internet search engine such as
YAHOO! or Netscape® is meant to help you find information, search
results on specific topics often reveal thousands of Web sites, many of which
may be unrelated to the information you want. You may want to get a copy of a
reference book that provides tips on how to find health information on the
Internet. Health On-line, by Tom Ferguson, M.D. (Addison-Wesley
Publishing Company, 1996), is an example of one reference that can help you
use the Internet to find health information and support groups.
National Library of Medicine
You can search the NLM's MEDLINE®
database, free of charge, on the Web. The link to this database can be found
on the NLM home page at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/.
You can conduct a search in one of two Web-based products, PubMed or Internet
Grateful Med. Both provide you with free access to MEDLINE® and,
for a fee, allow you to use Loansome Doc Delivery Service to order copies of
articles. PubMed links you to publishers' sites for approximately 100
full-text journals; some are by subscription only. Internet Grateful Med also
gives you access to other databases, including AIDSLINE, HealthSTAR, AIDSDRUGS,
To help people find health information on
the Internet, the Federal Government's Department of Health and Human Services
has developed a Web site-healthfinder® (http://www.healthfinder.gov/).
This site serves as a gateway or point of entry to the broad range of consumer
health information resources produced by the Federal Government and many of
its partners. healthfinder® includes a searchable index and
locator aids for news, publications, on-line journals, support and self-help
groups, on-line discussions, and toll-free numbers.
Don't Believe Everything You Read
As you make purchases for your home library
or search the Internet, keep in mind that not all information is written by
qualified medical experts. Your doctor or a health organization may be able to
recommend some good books or helpful Internet sites. When looking for health
information on the Internet, don't believe everything you see. Articles
published in peer-reviewed medical journals are checked for accuracy, but
anyone can put information on the Internet, so there's no guarantee that the
information you find is accurate or up-to-date. In addition, many companies
set up Web sites primarily to sell their products. It may be helpful to ask a
health professional about the information you find on the Internet,
particularly before you buy any products. If you search and shop with care,
you can add some medically sound reference materials to your home library and
find accurate information on the Internet.
Use Information Wisely
It can be hard to judge the accuracy and
credibility of medical information you read in books or magazines, see on
television, or find on the Internet. Even people with medical backgrounds
sometimes find this task challenging. Following are some important tips to
help you decide what information is believable and accurate.
Books, Articles, and Television
- Compare several different resources on the same
topic. Check two or three other articles or books to see whether the
information or advice is similar.
- Check the author's credentials by looking up his or
her affiliations, such as university and medical school attended,
associations, and lists of other publications. For doctors, this
information can be found in one of the physician directories at your
library or on the AMA's Web site at http://ama-assn.org/
(click on AMA
Physician Select). You can also call the American Board of Medical
Specialists at (800) 776-2378 to see whether a physician is board
certified in his or her specialty. Your librarian can help you find other
resources to check the credentials of nonphysicians.
- Ask yourself if the information or advice "rings
true." That is, is it feasible, plausible, and common sense, or is it
wishful thinking or sensationalism?
- Look for a list of references at the end of the
article or book. Information that is backed up by other medical
professionals and researchers is more likely to be accurate.
- Check out your information source. Was the article
published in a peer-reviewed journal? Look for a list of editorial or
review board members at the beginning of a journal. In a peer-reviewed
journal, articles are reviewed by other qualified members of the
profession for accuracy and reliability.
- Look very carefully at information published in
newspapers and magazines or reported on television. Most reporters are
journalists rather than medical experts. In addition, newspapers and
television reporters may use sensationalism to attract more readers or
viewers. Medical facts and statistics can be misrepresented or incomplete.
Check to see whether the newspaper or magazine cites a source for its
information and includes the credentials of the persons cited.
- Examine a magazine's list of editors. Do medical
experts serve as editors and review articles? Be especially wary of
personal testimonials of miracle cures. There's often no way of judging
whether the story is true. Furthermore, don't trust medical product
advertisements claiming miracle cures or spectacular results.
- Compare the information you find on the Internet with
other resources. Check two or three articles in the medical literature or
medical textbooks to see whether the information or advice is similar.
- Check the author's or organization's credentials.
They should be clearly displayed on the Web site. If the credentials are
missing, consider this a red flag. Unfortunately, there are many phony
doctors and other health professionals making false claims on the
- Find out if the Web site is maintained by a reputable
health organization. Remember that no one regulates information on the
Internet. Anyone can set up a home page and claim anything. Some reliable
Web sites providing health information include those of government
agencies, health foundations and associations, and medical colleges.
- Be wary of Web sites advertising and selling products
that claim to improve your health. More important, be very careful about
giving out credit-card information on the Internet. Further, even if
nothing is being sold on a Web site, ask yourself if the site host has an
interest in promoting a particular product or service.
- Ask yourself whether the information or advice seems
to contradict what you've learned from your doctor. If so, talk to your
doctor to clarify the differences in the information.
- Be cautious when using information found on bulletin
boards or during "chat" sessions with others. Testimonials and
personal stories are based on one person's experience rather than on
objective facts or proven medical research.
To Make Informed
Decisions About Your Health Care, You Need to Understand Your Health Problem
Medical information, especially material
written for health care providers, can be hard to understand, confusing, and
sometimes frightening. As you read through your materials, write down any
words or information you don't understand or find confusing. Make a list of
your questions and concerns. During your next office visit, ask your doctor,
nurse, or other health professional to review the information with you so that
you understand clearly how it might be helpful to you.
If the medical information you gathered is
for a personal health problem, you may want to share what you found with your
spouse, other family members, or a close friend. Family members and friends
who understand your health problem are better able to provide needed support
and care. Finally, you might want to consider joining a support group in your
community. You may find it helpful to be able to talk with others who have the
same health problem and share your feelings or concerns.
Ultimately, the information you gather from
print and electronic resources can help you make decisions about your health
care-how to prevent illness, maintain optimal health, and address your
specific health problems. Armed with this knowledge, you can more actively
work in partnership with your doctor and other health care professionals to
explore treatment options and make health care decisions. Health care experts
predict that today's computer and telecommunication systems will result in a
new era-the health care system information age-built around health-savvy,
health-responsible consumers who are the primary managers of their own health
and medical care.
National Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin
Diseases Information Clearinghouse
NIAMS/National Institutes of Health
1 AMS Circle
Bethesda, MD 20892–3675
Phone: (301) 495–4484 or (877) 22-NIAMS (toll free)
TTY: (301) 565–2966
Fax: (301) 718–6366
The NIAMS gratefully acknowledges the
assistance of Ron Gordner, M.L.S., and Gail Dutcher, M.L.S., of the National
Library of Medicine; Mary Jo Deering, Ph.D., of the Office of Disease
Prevention and Health Promotion, Office of the Secretary, Department of Health
and Human Services; and Amye Leong, an arthritis patient advocate based in San
Pedro Peninsula, CA, and a member of the NAMS Advisory Council, in the review
of this booklet.
About NIAMS and Its Clearinghouse:
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS),
a part of the National
Institutes of Health (NIH), leads the Federal medical research effort in
arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases. The NIAMS supports research
and research training throughout the United States, as well as on the NIH
campus in Bethesda, MD, and disseminates health and research information. The
National Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Information
Clearinghouse (NAMSIC) is a public service sponsored by the NIAMS that
provides health information and information sources.
Additional information can be found on the
NIAMS Web site at http://www.niams.nih.gov/.