The One Best Site to Search for Medical Information

My good friend and fellow medical writer Lois Wingerson has been telling me for years about SearchMedica, a great free search engine for medical information that was established in late 2006. It wasn’t until she asked me to write a short news item for one of its weekly blogs that I checked out SearchMedica, and I can’t tell you how glad I am.

SearchMedica was built to help doctors research unanswered questions because “our research shows that every day a doctor sees 3 or 4 patients with a problem he or she doesn’t know exactly how to resolve. Many searches in the long tail are for specific conditions, clearly looking for the way to address a particular problem in a particular patient,” says Wingerson, who is Content Manager at SearchMedica.

An analysis of the 200 most common search terms from the 2010 annual report shows “clinical condition” is the most popular term used. In the All of Medicine tab of SearchMedica, “cardiovascular” is a very popular disease category, which is not surprising given the prevalence of heart disease. Overall, Google Analytics shows people spend about 4 minutes per visit and look at about 3 pages.

Sometimes there are searches on medical jargon that seems funny but may mean something to medical professionals.

“There was a search a few days ago on the term ‘banana bag’ which brought up no results in SearchMedica, but a Google search found it on Wikipedia,” says Wingerson. “As I suspected, it’s a kind of intravenous bag. You wouldn’t find it on SearchMedica because SearchMedica doesn’t view Wikipedia as an authoritative source, and I guess nobody in the authoritative medical literature has used the term often enough in any article so that it even ranks on SearchMedica searches.”

SearchMedica is as useful for medical writers as it is for doctors in finding background information on a particular topic, both in locating previous studies or related information on a medical news subject, or in finding reliable general information.

“For a medical writer, it’s a terrific way to get instant perspective and make sure that you’re not ‘going off half cocked,’ calling something news that isn’t really that new, because it’s very easy to follow the course of debate or research on a topic over the past year or two,” says Wingerson. “The article categories listed immediately above the first item in any results list (Research/Reviews, Evidence-based Articles, Practice Guidelines, Practical Articles/News, Patient Education, Clinical Trials, CME, Complementary Medicine) are a good way to target a search to particular kinds of resources.

“We like to say that SearchMedica is more targeted than Google, but broader than PubMed, because it indexes many of the controlled circulation publications that PubMed won’t catalogue. There’s debate in these less-authoritative sources that can be really useful for a reporter. Importantly, SearchMedica (unlike the major search engines) is constructed to use publication date as a very important factor in default ranking. The most recent item won’t necessarily appear at the very top of the list; an item more relevant to your search term but slightly less recent may appear higher. But in general latest comes first.”

Google, with its immense brainpower, is still a good place to start general medical searches for consumers. “I often go to Google myself when I draw a blank on SearchMedica, as in the ‘banana bag’ example,” she says. Also, SearchMedica is not optimized for searching by article, so if you know the exact reference, then PubMed is the way to go.

But if I want one website that I know has both medical perspective, easily understood background information, plus the latest journal references, my new first choice is now SearchMedica.

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