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Healthcare and the Internet: Dr. Google

In November 2005, Google and--within a year of its release--Google Scholar are the top referers to the British Medical Journal (BMJ). If this is a general trend I have an idea why it may be so.

My wife is studying Physiotherapy and attempts to use the user-hostile Athens to find relevant material in databases such as Medline and Cinahl to read and cite.

Her fellow students express disdain when she tells them she prefers Google to find her sources. Enduring the pain of academic search engines is, it seems, essential in the quest for the same knowledge. Or is this learned academic snobbery?

Dean Giustini, the author of the BMJ article, thinks that Google ought to create a medical portal. Fortunately, the National Electronic Library for Health (NeLH) already provides an excellent interface to a number of databases for clinicians and laypersons and my wife and I recommend it, together with Google as a general source.

The power of the internet in the hands of laypersons was amply demonstrated in 2004 when a 15-year old boy used the internet to track down his genetic father using a sample of his own DNA and on-line facilities.

Medical knowledge is no longer the domain of the few.


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Athens is just an authentication system it is not a database. The Athens system is used by both higher education & NHS to identify the user - but both are likely to be replaced in a few years by Shibbolith.
The interface and selection of resources will depend on what the particular institution has bought - OVID & Silverplatter being a couple of the most popular interfaces & the selection of material will also differ.

Google Scholar does provide access to a wide range of resources but the way they are selected & the citation system does introduce some biases - in addition less full text articles are available than with sbscription services & niether academic or clinical work should be based on abstracts alone.

You are right, Athens is the interface to other search engines.

However, since my wife discovered Google Scholar the moans coming from her study room have been transmogrified into squeaks of joy.

She doesn't use Google for everything, but it has given her the confidence to to tackle the other academic search leviathans.

I tried to help her last night in looking up a reference on Pubmed and I found the user interface excruciatingly difficult to use.

I have found Pubmed to be the easiest medical search engine to use:

It's much better than OVID, which librarians seem to prefer, perhaps because they had to pay to buy it. Pubmed is maintained by the National Institutes for Health in the USA, and is free.

Thanks for the comment, Peng Hui.

My wife and I will take another look at PubMed, in that case.

I have to say that my wife has gained a lot of confidence in seaching using Google and Google Scholar. This has give her the confidence to use the more awe inspiring biggies.

Unlike me, she has no academic or IT background and has found academic searching a challenge.

I can't help thinking there is a niche here for Google, despite some of the disparaging comments made about Scholar by academics.

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