Editor’s Note: Jey Balachandran is a software engineer at Doximity.
For those of you tracking medicine’s digital shift, here’s some interesting
news: In January, 81 year-old William H. Welch Medical Library at Johns
Hopkins University will go completely online. The move was precipitated in
response to calculations showing that in a day only about 40 of the 400,000
books currently housed in the building were checked out compared to 35,000
downloaded online. By the end of the transfer, nearly 95% of the collection
will be available virtually.
The Hopkins case is, of course, a reflection of just how far the scales have
tipped in favor of online medical research. PubMed, for instance, now
comprises more than 21 million citations, and most journals make some if not
all of their content available on the Web. In the interest of maximizing
returns as you navigate this abundance information, it’s worth having a few
To get around needing to go back and login to your institution’s website, for
example, Doximity product developer Nate Gross wrote this basic
bookmarklet that allows readers easy journal login using their institution’s
proxy server. Additionally, whether you’re searching Google or an institution’s
online medical library, order counts. Most search engines will give strongest
weight to the first words you type in (if you know exactly what you want, add
quotation marks for extra heft). In addition, they’ll let you jump from your
search engine to a search within a specific website if you add a colon after
the last word of the search term, directly followed by the site name (no space
You probably already know to use “and,” “or” and “?” in searches just as you
would when you speak. Similarly, you can use the minus sign directly before a
word (again, no space in between) to exclude that word from your search. Also
helpful: When you’re vague on exact wording, you can simply type an asterix in
place of a word you think you might be missing–this essentially says “give me a
wildcard.” Another approach is to tell the engine to include synonyms in your
search by using the tilde symbol (looks like this: ~) directly before the word
in question. Lastly, once you get to your text, you’re actually able to
search within it by holding down the “command” and “f” keys simultaneously.
For a more in-depth list of tips, we asked Welch library director Nancy K.
Roderer, and her colleagues Sue Woodson and Blair Anton to share some of their
best advice for navigating the digital stacks. Their top suggestions, below.
Books by an author/ISBN
To see the most popular books by an author we like
WorldCat Identities, an online catalog of over 72,000 library collections.
You’ll get your search results itemized according to popularity. (here’s a
sample search we did). The government also assigns each book what’s called
an ISBN number (you’ll see these listed on Amazon, for example). Most digital
stacks enable searches using just those digits.
Latest on my topic
A search in PubMed always returns its results by “most
recently added.” So, whenever you do your search, you’ll see the latest
information on your topic at the top of the results list.
Current issues of a journal I know
On a familiar subject, physicians often
know the relevant journals and the easiest thing to do is go to the website of
the journal and search there. Many journals now offer a pre-print or
articles-in-press service for very current articles on a topic. To stay up to
date afterwards, you can often also register your search for an alert service.
The journal runs your search on a fixed schedule and if the results include new
things you’ll receive those citations by email.
Introduction to a new subject
While Wikipedia is good for getting a general
overview of many topics, it doesn’t always work that well for clinical
questions. Google Scholar, on the other hand, covers the medical literature
and allows you to limit your results to the current year. But don’t forget
Google itself, either. It’s an excellent way to pull up media writing on
medical treatments or issues.