Info Superhighway Becomes Freeway
By Melanie Modlin
On the Front Page...
"This development is going to do more than anything we've done in a long time to make people healthy," the Vice President noted at a Capitol Hill press event attended by key congressional leaders, NIH director Dr. Harold Varmus and officials from the National Library of Medicine, which created MEDLINE.
"From a computer in the comfort of your own home or from one in your neighborhood library, you will be able to access timely and accurate information," said Gore. "Already 30,000 people a day are using MEDLINE. By making it more accessible -- free and private -- we can increase that number many times over." Previously, MEDLINE had been available only to those who registered and paid a fee.
The new method of MEDLINE access, known as "PubMed," makes available more than 9 million medical articles from 70 different countries, and is growing at a rate of 1,000 articles a day. In addition, more than 30 scientific journals and another 230 academic scientific journals are expected to be online in the coming weeks, allowing researchers to pull up the full text of articles right on their computers.
While conducting the first free MEDLINE search, the Vice President looked for information related to the treatment of a ruptured Achilles tendon. Gore, who had previously suffered such an injury, quickly found several articles that dealt with the subject. He was impressed that the information he found in the MEDLINE database was remarkably similar to what he had received from his doctors when he underwent surgery not long ago.
The Vice President's subsequent searches, on ear infections and the benefits of flu shots, were carried out in an entertaining and informative exchange with Dr. David Lipman, director of NLM's National Center for Biotechnology Information, who acted as his guide. NCBI developed PubMed, the new gateway to MEDLINE.
The press conference was sponsored by Senators Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair and ranking minority member of the Senate appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over NIH's budget.
"Today, ER meets the Internet," said Harkin at the Dirksen Office Bldg. event. "I am proud to play a role in this launching. It is historic. It will make a real difference. And I bet if you listen closely, the clicking you will hear today will be the sound of millions of computer users bookmarking the MEDLINE site."
Specter described his own computer search to determine the best form of treatment for his brain tumor. He also noted that, with the advent of free MEDLINE, "The superhighway of medical information just became a freeway."
"The National Library of Medicine's debut of free Web-based searching could not be more timely," said NLM director Dr. Donald Lindberg. "The health care delivery landscape is changing. Citizens are increasingly turning to the Web as a source of information to improve their daily lives, including their health. So it is vital," he continued, "that they, and the health professionals who serve them, have access to the most current and credible medical information."
The PubMed address is http://www.nlm.nih.gov.
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