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NIH Wins 'No Gobbledygook' Award for NLM Trial Database

By Susan Persons

Vice President Gore recently awarded NIH its first plain language "No Gobbledygook" Award for the development of a clinical trials database at the National Library of Medicine. Dr. Alexa T. McCray led the NLM team that developed ClinicalTrials.gov, a database that provides the latest information on more than 5,000 clinical trials of serious diseases and health conditions at 47,000 research sites. The award recognizes one of numerous efforts at NIH to implement the Plain Language Initiative. (See NIH Record, Apr. 4, 2000).

When faced with a serious illness, we all wish to know the most up-to-date informa tion about the disease and possible ways to treat it. But finding that information is not always easy, even for those working in a scientific environment. Thanks to the efforts of McCray and her team, key information about hundreds of diseases and health conditions is now as easy to find as movies in a newspaper. Users of ClinicalTrials.gov will be pleased to see that it is user-friendly, as it was designed and tested especially for patients and their families and friends. The database includes plainly written instructions that make it easy to access and interpret the information and cut through medical jargon. For example, you would not have to know the medical term "myocardial infarction" to find information about heart attacks.

The site is also comprehensive, not only telling you all about the types of tests or procedures each clinical trial requires but also where the trial is being conducted and the reasons each treatment is being tested. Contact information for the research team is listed on the site, should you wish to talk with them directly.

Lastly, the site is inclusive; it lists most of the studies conducted or sponsored by NIH and will also eventually include studies supported by other government agencies and the private sector. In the past, people searching for research on a health condition would often have to make numerous calls in a time-consuming, hit-or-miss process, but now it is virtually one-stop shopping.

How will this database benefit NIH?

As expansion of the world's premier clinical research center — NIH's new hospital — approaches completion, NIH will want to ensure that the facility is fully utilized. Use of this database should increase participation in clinical trials and lower costs for recruiting participants. Since the database was implemented in February, more than 9.5 million hits have been logged, averaging up to 4,000 users per day.

How can you win a "No Gobbledygook" Award?

Although this is the first award NIH has received for its efforts to implement the plain language directive, it is by no means expected to be the last. "I strongly encourage institutes, centers and offices to submit nominations for this award and other NIH plain language awards," said Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, acting NIH director. The Vice President's monthly awards will end in December, but other awards are also available. "We have a long history of excellence in communicating health information at NIH, but I know that we can do even better as we fully implement the plain language directive," she said. Kirschstein has asked each NIH component to submit an action plan for plain language by Jan. 1, 2001, to comply with the administration's directive that all public documents be written in plain language by Jan. 1, 2002.

See http://www1.od.nih.gov/execsec/plainlanguage.htm for more information about the initiative, and send award submissions to Karen Pelham O'Steen, Bldg. 1, Rm. B1-46.


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