Skokie Public Library's Guide to...
MEDLINE via OCLC FirstSearch

MEDLINE, provided by the National Library of Medicine, is an index of article summaries and citations from 3,500 medical journals from 1965 to the present. Topics covered include clinical medicine, dentistry, education, experimental medicine, health services administration, nursing, nutrition, pathology, psychiatry, toxicology, and veterinary medicine.

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Typical Uses

Because MEDLINE covers all areas of medicine, it is useful for searching a range of medical topics, from descriptions of treatment, medical research, and drug therapies to information on nutrition, nursing, and medical administration.

Following are examples of the types of questions that could be answered by searching MEDLINE:

  • I'm interested in the ethical implications of cloning.
  • I'm interested in current research on kidney transplants.
  • What are some of the experimental treatments for multiple sclerosis?
  • What is the rate of incidence of heart disease in women?
  • What drugs are being used to treat depression?
  • What are the long-term health effects from taking a certain medication?

Basic, Advanced, and Expert Searching

MEDLINE can be searched using either the Basic, the Advanced, or the Expert Search method. The Basic Search is usually used to locate words or concepts in a single index, or "field," such as author name, keyword, or title. Unless you select a different option, MEDLINE will search for your term in the title, summary and medical subject fields of the articles in the database.

For more complex searches, you can use the Advanced Search, which allows you to search more than one field at a time. In an Advanced Search, for example, you can search for author and subject at the same time.

The Expert Search method is designed for experienced searchers who prefer to enter specific search labels and search terms combined with special search characters and Boolean operators such as "and," "or," or "not." If you are unable to find articles using the Basic Search, or if you have a very specific article, subject, or date in mind, select the Advanced or Expert Search options. These options allow you to focus your search on specific parts of journal articles, such as title, author, subject, journal name or article summaries. Index terms used in this database can be browsed by selecting the Index button (see description below).

Please note that the full text of an article is available on the computer only if a full text link Full Text icon appears at the end of the article citation.


Special Features

Subject Headings feature

The Subject Headings feature Subject Headings icon can be used before initiating a search in order to identify the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) used by the indexers of the database to describe different medical concepts or conditions. Additionally, you may select this feature once you have retrieved the results of your search to identify articles related to your latest search. Selecting this button once you are viewing an individual article's citation will retrieve a list of Medical Subject Headings assigned to the article you've selected.

Index feature

You can use the Index feature Index feature icon to look up a word or phrase in the index to check its usefulness before searching. This feature helps you to:

  • Verify that a word or phrase exists in an index
  • Check the spelling or spelling variations of a word
  • See how many articles in MEDLINE contain your word
  • Check the wording of an exact phrase

Exact phrase search

If you are searching for a specific phrase or term and know exactly how it is used in the database, you can do an Exact phrase search. Fields that use the Exact phrase command are: author, medical subject, named person as subject, title, and source. Exact phrase searches can only be performed from the Advanced or Expert Search screens. Before performing an Exact phrase search, it is recommended that you find your exact term using the Index feature described above.


Relevance ranking and sorting records

The results of your search will be listed automatically in the order that the records were added to the MEDLINE database unless you choose otherwise. From the initial search screen, you can choose to "rank" your results by date of publication or by relevance, which is based on the anticipated relevance of the results to your search topic. Relevance ranking will often help you more quickly locate the most appropriate information on your search topic.

If you would like to sort your results by author, title, journal name, or date, you may do so after you have performed your search. Select the Sort button Sort Icon from the top of the screen and select the appropriate sorting criteria from the pull-down menus.


Tagging or marking records

To select a group of article citations from your list of results, "mark" the citations on your results list by clicking in the box to the left of the citation. To view your selected records all at once, select "Marked records" on the left side of the screen. This will bring up all of your selected citations on a single screen.


Combining previous searches

If you have performed extensive searches on different topics and would like to either narrow those searches by adding additional terms or combine your previous searches, you may do this by selecting Previous Searches on the left side of the screen. You must enter one or more searches before you can use this feature. The Previous Searches feature allows you to:

  • view a list of your previous searches to see what search words you used
  • view search results for a previous search
  • combine two or more of your previous searches
  • combine new search words with one or more of your previous searches

Limit search feature

This feature allows you to narrow your search by year, language, subject, and type of article. To use the Limit Search feature, select the Limit button Limit icon before or after your search. You can also limit your search from the Advanced or Expert Search screens.

To limit your search to articles available in full text, select the check box on the first search screen.


Expanding your search

The Expand Search Broaden Icon screen gathers authors and subject headings from the first fifty articles in your search. This allows you to find other articles related to your current search by letting you select specific subjects or authors you are interested in.


Libraries that own item

When you select the Libraries that own Item button Libraries Icon, or the phrase Libraries that own Item below the article's title, MEDLINE displays a list of the libraries that own the item you have found. Illinois libraries are listed first. For information on what to do when your article is not available in full text, see Full text alternatives. MEDLINE displays a copy of the article's citation below the list of libraries.

If Skokie Public Library owns the journal in which the article appears, an Library Owns Icon  icon  will appear at the end of the citation. To retrieve this article, bring your citation to the Periodicals Desk for assistance.


Tips for Effective Searching

  • Before you begin your search, you can narrow your topic or find the best terms to use in your search by selecting either the Subject Headings or Index. See the descriptions of these features above.
  • Authors' names are formatted with the last name first, followed by first- and middle-name initials. For example, if you are searching for articles written by Dean Ornish, use Ornish D in your search. If you are unsure of an author's middle initial, you can use his or her last name, first initial, and then an asterisk. For example: Ornish D*. You can use the Index feature, described above, to search for the exact phrasing of an author's name.
  • A plus sign (+) can be added to the end of a word to search for plural and singular forms of a word. For example, the search for virus+ would retrieve virus and viruses.
  • An asterisk (*) can be added to the end of a word to search for multiple forms of a word (including plurals). For example, searching using the word pancrea* will retrieve articles containing words such as pancreas, pancreatic, pancreases, pancreacyte, pancreastatin, etc.
  • If you find your Basic Search retrieves resources that are not what you expected, try selecting the Advanced or Expert Search option. These features will permit you to specify which sections of the database you wish to search or a specific date range. Advanced and Expert Searches also let you link words or phrases with "and," "or," or "not". For more help on Advance or Expert Searching, see Basic, advanced, and expert searching.
  • MEDLINE has an instructive and well-organized help section that can be accessed by selecting the Help icon Help Icon at the top right of the screen.

Print and Email Options

Articles and citations may be printed or sent to your email account from the MEDLINE database. To reformat your article for printing, select the Print button Print Icon. Use the Email button Email icon to send the document to an email address.

Please note that if the full text of an article is not available on the computer, you will not receive the full text via email.


Full Text Alternatives

If the article you have found is not available in full text through OCLC's MEDLINE database, first check with the staff person at Skokie Public Library's Periodicals Desk to see if the magazine you are interested in is either:

  • available in print or microfilm at the Library, or
  • available in full text through another online database.

If the article is not available at Skokie Public Library, you may request a copy of the article from another library (as an "interlibrary loan") through one of the librarians at the Information Services Desk. To place an interlibrary loan request, you must have a Skokie Public Library card.


Other Medical and Health Related Resources Online

  • Health Reference Center contains information for the layperson as well as the health professional. It includes the full text of many articles from hundreds of consumer-oriented magazines and medical journals. The summaries of many other articles are included as well as the full text of pamphlets, medical textbooks, and medical dictionaries. 
  • Librarians have also selected a number of online health information resources available on the World Wide Web. These are included in the Health & Medicine category of the Research section of the Library's website.