PubMed/MEDLINE Searches: Part I

AKA Article Summary #4

The authors of this article, provided a plethora of background information on MEDLINE and PubMed.  This strategy allowed them to establish a foundation for the reader to understand where the database came from and then easily transition to where it is now, as well as the basics of how to use the search feature.

The initial concept of what would later become PubMed, is linked back to the end of the American Civil War when Dr. John Billings – a Union Army surgeon – started working in the Surgeon General’s Office.  He was charged with organizing and maintaining the office library, which he used to establish a comprehensive medical library for American physicians.  He chose to catalog and index all of the medical literature at his disposal, resulting in the creation of the “Index Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon General’s Office” in 1876.  This comprehensive catalog series (the first of which was 16 volumes and took 15 years to create) would be updated and published five times, between 1880 and 1961.  Beyond the Index-Catalogue, Billings also decided to publish a monthly index which included the newest journal publications.  This monthly index was called, “Index Medicus”, with a cumulative index being published annually.

As technology advances allowed, the printed indexes began to transition into a new era and in 1964 MEDLARS, a computerized system was created to replace them.  Prior to the computerization of the index, in 1956, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) was established moving the indexing responsibility from the Army to the Public Health Service.  Although MEDLARS was much easier to navigate and locate desired information, the request time was lengthy (4-6 weeks), the citations provided were not always relevant, and often there were citations that were relevant missing from the received results.  Beginning in 1971, the NLM offered MEDLARS onLINE or MEDLINE, which would allow real time access to bibliographic information for libraries.  Although, this mode of access did come at a cost to the libraries, with charges by the hour and per print job. Eventually, MEDLINE also went through a phase of being offered in compact disk form, which offered more storage and access.

All of the preceding stages of MEDLINE led up to the current access offered through PubMed.  Free online access is provided to the MEDLINE database and the NCBI Bookshelf through PubMed.  It is important for users to keep in mind that although they are able to use PubMed to search for resources, such as articles and books, full text access may not be available without a subscription.  However, if individuals locate citations within PubMed and their institutions possess proper subscriptions, they would be able to view the full text, as well as if resources are open access.  Also, it should be noted that through PubMedCentral, more than 2.8 millions articles in MEDLINE are available free.

To conclude the article, the authors provide some insight into the basics of searching within PubMed.  Some important points included how important it is for users to take advantage of the filters available to them, enter information in as many known or desired fields (more than 65 exist within the database), as well as searching terms and phrases which are as specific as possible – each of these tips and tools will allow searches to be narrowed down to the most relevant results.  If users would like insight into what the optimal search terms might be, they can review the “Search Details” of their initial entry, to review how PubMed translated their search.  This may be a place where synonyms may be located, often times ones that the user was unaware of or did not think to use.  For more experienced users, it should also be noted that search terms can be tagged using bracketed field names or abbreviations.



Fatehi, F., Gray, L. C., & Wootton, R. (2013). How to improve your PubMed/MEDLINE searches: 1. background and basic searching. Journal Of Telemedicine & Telecare, 19(8), 479-486 8p. doi:10.1177/1357633X13512061


2 thoughts on “PubMed/MEDLINE Searches: Part I

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s