Finding Medical Research
When you read or hear about new medical discoveries in the news, they often include links on their websites to the full-text journal articles or links to related sites. The best medical research is published in peer-reviewed journals, which means the research reports have been evaluated by experts and found to be scientifically sound. By and large these articles can be accessed by anyone at little or no charge and usually contain links to related articles cited in their references.
Remember to look for reliable sources when searching for medical information. Government-sponsored sites, peer-reviewed journals, and nonprofit health associations provide a wealth of information with the goal of educating the public. (And it's always a good idea to discuss any information that you find with your physician.)
PatientINFORM helps patients and caregivers access research articles in two ways:
Via Health Organization Sites
Take a look at our list of participants to see if one of the participating health organizations provides information on the disease or condition you’re interested in learning about. On that list page, you’ll find some tips or links to help you find patientINFORM-enabled material on that health organization’s web site.
Jane is looking for information on diabetes. She sees that the American Diabetes Association is a patientINFORM participant and follows the link to the section of its site where patientINFORM-enabled summaries are posted. On that page, she finds a menu to help search for specific topics as well as a listing of recent research summaries, or digests. The first digest, which happens to be about eating a Mediterranean-style diet, looks interesting, so she clicks on the link to read it. The digest is a summary for patients that explains the findings of a research study published in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine. After reading the digest, Jane wants to read the full study or at least print it out to show her nutritionist, so she clicks on the link to the journal article. The first page she reaches is the article’s abstract, a summary written for scientists, but from that page, she can click on links to the full article shown as an HTML Web page or as a PDF file she can download or print.
Via Publisher or Journal Sites
If you’re looking for a disease or condition not represented by one of the participating health organizations, you still may be able to find relevant research information in other ways. One of those ways is via participating publishers’ sites.
The web sites of major publishers provide immediate and free listings of tables of contents and abstracts, with links to full-text articles that can be purchased for as little as $3 or that are available free. Some publishers who participate in patientINFORM have special programs to provide patients and caregivers with free full-text articles in addition to those offered via participating voluntary health organization web sites. For more information about using publishers’ web sites, see Getting the Most from a Publisher or Journal Site.
Jack is looking for the most up-to-date research on growth hormone deficiency. He sees that The Endocrine Society is a publisher participant in patientINFORM and that it has a policy for providing patients with access to articles in its journals that are not yet free to everyone. From The Endocrine Society’s web site, he enters the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism site and searches for the term “growth hormone.” Among the results, he sees an article about a study comparing the use of inhaled growth hormone and subcutaneous (injected) growth hormone in children with growth hormone deficiency. After reading the article’s abstract, he decides he wants to read the full article and perhaps show it to his daughter’s doctor. Following the instructions for requesting an article, Jack sends an e-mail to the journal’s staff providing the title of the journal, title of the article, the issue date and the page numbers (all of which can be found without a subscription in the journal’s table of contents or in search results), along with his name and e-mail address, and the article is e-mailed to him free of charge.
For a more detailed account, please see Getting the Most from a Publisher or Journal Site.
Other ways to find research
If you are looking for details about a specific disease or condition, try the websites of the National Institutes of Health, which has institutes that specialize in certain diseases, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Publishers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the past decade to digitize content in order to provide increased access to information for millions of patients, families, researchers, faculty, and students. The following is a list of the numerous ways in which publishers and database and website producers provide access:
- The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) provides web-based, free access to the world’s largest digital archive of references to the life sciences journal literature. The bulk of the archive consists of abstracts (short summaries) provided by journal publishers and indexed by NLM.
- PubMed contains citations and abstracts of more than 17 million articles appearing in more than 4,600 biomedical journals dating back to the 1950’s. The public can search this database and retrieve references to most of the articles published in respected journals, whether their content is free or not. PubMed also includes links to the full-text articles, which appear on a variety of websites, including those of hundreds of journal publishers.
- PubMed Central (PMC) provides access to more than 200,000 full-text articles from more than 140 journals that have chosen to deposit their content on PMC. In addition, under the National Institutes of Health’s mandated public access policy, all articles that report NIH-funded research and that are accepted for publication after April 7, 2008, must be deposited on PMC and made freely available within 1 year of their original publication. Several other funding agencies also require the scientists whose research they fund to deposit articles on PMC.
- FreeMedicalJournals.com contains links to more than 430 free medical journals, some of which are available immediately upon publication, at no cost.
- University and public libraries provide access to print subscriptions or full-text electronic articles for free to walk-in patrons who obtain a guest pass
- Nonprofit health organizations are good sources because their missions are to promote understanding and awareness of particular conditions or diseases.
- Hospital libraries may have print and online collections of medical journals and books. Contact your local hospital library to learn about the consumer resources they offer.
- Stanford University Libraries' HighWire Press provides access to more than 4.7 million complete (full-text) articles from over 1,000 journals. HighWire also offers almost 1.9 million free full-text articles, and this number grows daily. It is currently the largest source of free articles in the world.
- Interlibrary loan programs or document delivery services provide access to print copies of articles; electronic copies of articles can be accessed by anyone on a pay-per-view basis on journal websites for as little as $3.
- Publishers have negotiated licenses with universities that allow thousands of faculty and students at those institutions to access a journal anytime, anywhere.
- Innovative distribution arrangements have resulted in dramatically increased access to journal literature, not only in the United States and Europe, but also for research and professional workers in developing countries. One example of this is the HINARI project, in which WHO and publishers of medical journals provide free access to nearly 3,800 journals for 2,500 institutions in over 107 developing countries worldwide. This project is being continually expanded and in many countries is the principal literature resource for the library.