Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Pick and mix

The world of health librarians is buzzing this afternoon with the question of EMBASE and whether it's worth forking out hard cash for it. Those of us in the NHS are lucky enough to have access to it through our NHS Athens password. But is it worth it? And what is it anyway?

Medline is synonymous some circles with literature searching. Rather like Google it has become everyone's first - and last - port of call for everything. And if you don't find what you are looking for there...well, surely it's not out there to find?
Medline is big, but it is not the be all and end all. There is important, useful information out there that isn't indexed in Medline, and a whole collection of other databases that do index some of that material.

Cinahl is for nursing and allied health - but please don't let that turn you off if you are a doctor. It has good coverage of physiotherapy journals which can be useful for rheumatologists. Cinahl is also good for covering those journals where articles ask how the patient feels, rather than focussing on what the clinician does to the patient. And if you are wondering if a nurse-led unit would be a god send or a disaster than Cinahl will find papers to help.

Psycinfo is the mental health database. It goes back in to the mists of time (well - the 1880s, anyway) and indexes books as well as journals. It covers psychology and neurology as well as psychiatry.

And so to EMBASE. It's big - almost as big as Medline. It has a European bias, where Medline is North American. It indexes more non-English language publications. Its particular strengths are pharmacology, genetics and biomedical sciences.

All of the databases have some overlap. The overlap between Medline and Embase, depending what you are looking for, varies between 10% and 87%. Sometimes it's reassuring to get the same results from two or more databases - you can feel more certain that you aren't missing anything. Sometimes turning to another database transforms a search disaster into information heaven.

Medline is the only one of these databases to be available for free, in the guise of Pubmed. The others have to be bought - which is where your Athens password comes in. The joy of bringing them all together (currently under Dialog Datastar, soon to be under NLH Search 2.0) is that they look the same, are searched in the same way and you can flip between one database and another or search across more than one database at once.

So Medline is quick, its easy, it's familiar - but why stick to the Big Purple One when there is a whole quality selection to chose from?

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