There’s been much questioning in the medical library community about the nature of PubMed Health (PMH), the new source from the National Library of Medicine. When it first came out, in early 2011, it seemed to be pretty much a copy of the ADAM Health Encyclopedia that’s part of Medline Plus. Before the Medical Library Association annual meeting in May, NLM staff had said little to clarify how PMH would be different.

At the MLA meeting, NLM staff said that the unique feature of PMH would be the addition of Comparative Effectiveness Research (CER) information to help consumers make health decisions. They didn’t say that adding CER information has already started, and it was only after I got back from MLA that I saw that indeed it has. I tweeted to see if anyone else had noticed this, and got only one response — PMH watcher Alisha Miles replied, saying that “limited articles” in PMH have had CER links since it launched, and that NLM is now adding more (Thx, Alisha!). I did a small random sample of 26 PMH pages and found that 6 (23%) of them have CER links.

In this article, I’m providing screenshots of PMH pages that have CER data and that don’t. Below the screenshots, I have a few comments and data on the random sampling that I did.

Here’s the PMH page for Asthma, which does have CER links, under “Evaluating your options” (lower right):

For comparison, a screenshot the Asthma page when PMH first launched in Feb, that doesn’t have CER info, is in this article.

Here’s an example of a current PMH page that does not have CER links – Sleep Disorders:

A few quick observations:

It appears that, if a page has more than five CER links (like the Asthma page above), there’s a link for “See more” CER links — For Asthma, the “See more” page has 22 total links, with a URL that ends with this:
… term=Asthma%20AND%20subject_comparative_effectiveness[sb]
This indicates that the CER links are obtained by AND’ing together the subject (Asthma) and the CER subset. Searching the CER subset by itself <subject_comparative_effectiveness[sb]> gets 252 links. This seems like a fairly small number in comparison to the total number of subjects in PMH, so I suspect that there will be considerably more CER data added.

In some cases, the indexing for CER sources may be questionable — For example: The PMH page for Brain Surgery, under Evaluating your options, has 4 links. Two of them seem doubtfully relevant – Fact sheet: Period pains and Low back pain: Can massage help?

I did the random sample by looking at the first stand-alone link (not a cross reference) in the middle column for each letter of the alphabet of the PMH alpha index.

NO – Pages do NOT have CER links – 20 pages on June 8, 2011

YES – Pages DO have CER links – 6 pages on June 8, 2011

It’s encouraging to see that NLM is beginning to give PMH an identity separate from Medline Plus. As discussed in another article, however, I hope NLM will do more to communicate the timetable of this process, and other CER features that they plan to add to PMH.

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

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