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MEDLINE and 'Plus' Version Celebrate Birthdays

MEDLINE has grown up and had kids. The National Library of Medicine's premier bibliographic database of references to 4,500 biomedical journals published in the United States and 70 foreign countries, MEDLINE in October celebrated its 30th birthday. Its progeny, MEDLINEplus, a source of reliable consumer health information via the World Wide Web, celebrated its third birthday last month, too.

The pioneering MEDLINE project, begun in the early seventies, evolved from the computerized system used to produce the Index Medicus, which NLM had installed in 1964. MEDLINE was the first successful marriage of a large reference database with a national telecommunications network.

The eighties saw the introduction of "Grateful Med," a software program created by NLM that one could load onto a PC and, equipped with a modem and a password, search MEDLINE right from one's home, office or laboratory. Due in large part to outreach efforts by librarians in the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Grateful Med was eagerly snapped up not only by librarians but also by health professionals, scientists, students, lawyers, medical journalists and others, who saw the average charge of $2 per MEDLINE search as a bargain.

A physician requesting a search of MEDLINE back in 1972 works with search analysts on the query.

Today, in the age of the Internet and the World Wide Web, the NIH web site is the second most heavily trafficked site in the federal government, and NLM databases account for the major share of that use.

MEDLINE searching via "Internet Grateful Med" was introduced in 1996. The following year, free MEDLINE searching via the web began through a new system called PubMed. Now, for the first time, anyone with access to the web could search through an immense database of references and abstracts to 11 million medical journal articles. The response was immediate and startling: from 7 million MEDLINE searches (1996), the usage climbed dramatically and now stands at 400 million searches annually.

Improvements to PubMed continue to be introduced, and today it offers a high degree of flexibility to users. For example, there are now web links to about a quarter of the publishers represented in MEDLINE, allowing users to have access to the full text of articles referenced in the database. As it turned out, with the simplification of MEDLINE searching, about 30 percent of all MEDLINE searches were being done by consumers, and this presented a great opportunity for NLM.

In October 1998, the library introduced a service that not only provided selective MEDLINE results that are useful to the consumer, but that also linked the web user to authoritative, full-text health information. Because the name "MEDLINE" had a quarter-century exposure to the health professions, and because that database was now also increasingly known to the public, the library called the new service MEDLINEplus (

Consumers and health professionals are using it as the source of the most reliable and most accurate health information available on the web. It now receives some 70 million hits each year.

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