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Getting the Scoop from the Institutes
MEDLINEplus Counts on Input, Insights from NIH Advisors

Have you ever wondered who helps compile the vast contents of NLM's popular and authoritative online health information resource, MEDLINEplus (medlineplus.gov)?

A stalwart and surprisingly small team of NLM staffers constitutes the in-house MEDLINEplus group that scrutinizes and posts that resource's holdings. But another key component is the MEDLINEplus advisory group, composed of representatives from almost every institute that produces information for the public. The group functions as a sort of "board of directors" and a creative wellspring to aid in the database's development. A national network of medical librarians has key input, too.

MEDLINEplus, NLM's consumer-friendly web information service, was created in 1998 to provide up-to-date health information for the public. The easy-to-use resource gleans the best of the Internet from NIH and other reliable organizations.

"We realized early on that a wealth of information was coming from NIH," said Eve-Marie Lacroix, chief of NLM's Public Services Division, which oversees MEDLINEplus. "Bob Mehnert, NLM's head of communications, reached out to communications directors at the various institutes to solicit their input, and our advisory group was born."

The MEDLINEplus advisory group includes (front row, from l): Robert Mehnert, NLM; Eve-Marie Lacroix, NLM; Marian Emr, NINDS; Terry Long, NHLBI; and Kym Collins-Lee, NEI. In the second row are (from l) Dr. Marin Allen, NIDCD; Dennis Rodrigues, OD; Joan Abell, NIMH; Sue Feldman, NCI. In the third row are (from l) Chris Thomsen, NCCAM; Kathy Kranzfelder, NIDDK; and Joyce Backus, NLM. In the last row are Jane Shure, NIA; and Naomi Miller, NLM.

The group's charter meeting took place Oct. 1, 2000. Its members are communications directors, assistant directors and other senior communications staffers.

"We also brought in Dennis Rodrigues to serve on the advisory board," Lacroix continued. "Dennis manages NIH's main web site, and his presence has facilitated closer collaboration between the two sites."

In MEDLINEplus, each of the 600+ health topic pages links to the institute with primary responsibility for that topic, where appropriate — for example, the "Diabetes" page links to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Many of the topics feature general information or an overview of the topic from NIH at the top of the topic page. Other NIH information is organized by subtopic, such as diagnosis, research, treatment, etc. "Members of the advisory committee have been helpful in identifying the primary institute," said Lacroix, "and in ensuring there is authoritative content for the health topic page."

Institute representatives advised NLM regarding the creation of a Spanish version of MEDLINEplus, launched in September 2002. It was their idea, for example, to create a special page on MEDLINEplus, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/spanish/nihinstitutes.html, with descriptions of each institute and with links to each institute's home page in English.

At each advisory group meeting, members report on upcoming programs and events, especially new health information being created for the public. The MEDLINEplus team has created health topic pages in response to institute suggestions or new health information resources. "Financial Assistance" and "Assistive Devices" are two recent additions.

In addition, the institutes' representatives can email the MEDLINEplus team at any time if they want one of their programs or new health information resources featured on the MEDLINEplus homepage. They can use this mechanism to let NLM's team know that they have just published a new document for the public on their site, so that MEDLINEplus can quickly link it to the appropriate health topic.

The institutes are collaborating with NLM and the National Institute on Aging on a separate project, NIHSeniorHealth.gov, a special web site for seniors, which is slated for launch this fall.

"We love MEDLINEplus," says NEI's Kym Collins-Lee. "It really helps those of us who work in public affairs to be able to direct people to it, for drug information and other resources. There have been some great strategies developed for consumer health and many of us with the institutes have learned from those."

MEDLINEplus usage has been growing rapidly, doubling in the past year to a rate of more than 200 million page views per year. In addition to "Health Topics," the main features of MEDLINEplus are information about thousands of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, an illustrated medical encyclopedia and medical dictionaries, directories of hospitals and health professionals, a daily health news feed from the major print media, 150 interactive and simply presented tutorials (with audio and video) about diseases and medical procedures. Recently, Consumer Reports hailed MEDLINEplus as "the best place to find health information on the Web."


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