Drug information for ordinary people in PubMed

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Sandra Porter

PubMed is an on-line database at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) that contains information from scientific literature. Most of the information is related to medical research.

To search PubMed, you use a program called Entrez. You go to the NCBI, select PubMed from the menu, type words into the text box, and start the search. Sometimes that's all you need to do. Sometimes you get several million results and need to use more specific words to limit the results the ones that you really want.

Many scientists use PubMed on a daily basis. But the NCBI has noticed that ordinary people also use PubMed to find information. Last fall, they added a really nice feature that makes PubMed more useful and accessible for non-scientists.

I was reminded of that new feature when I was looking for information about mumps (part I, part II). When you search for topics that are related to some kind of drug, and select an article, PubMed will now give you a list of drugs in the lower right hand corner of the page.

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When you click the link to the drug, you get great information from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

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Even better, the information is written in English! My students always complained about the difficulty of reading abstracts in PubMed. Let's face it. Few college students have the same kind of vocabulary as the people who write scientific papers.

In fact, searching PubMed used to be even more challenging. At one time, you needed to know the Latin names for diseases if you were going to have any chance of finding information. "Ear infection" wouldn't work in the old days; you had to use "otitis media."

The information that you get about a drug, or vaccine, by following the link in the Patient Drug Information is clear and very readable. The words are familiar and the topics are probably things you want to know. For example, when I looked for mumps, I got to this page. I found short descriptions of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella. I found information about who should get vaccinated and who should not. A list was provided describing the risks of the MMR vaccine and what could happen if someone had a mild, severe, serious reaction. The page also gave advice about what to do and how to learn more.

Not all the papers that you find in a PubMed search will have links to drug information. Sometimes you have to add the word "drug" to your search terms. Sometimes you have to scan the article titles and look for articles that contain drug names or drug-related words. Sometimes you have to use the name of the drug (and spell it correctly) in combination with the disease name and any other terms you can list. It took me a few tries to find the asthma drug Singulair®. I'm glad I found it, though. Yikes! Holy cats!

When you do find the Patient Drug Information links, they are easier to read and more current than any kind of package insert. I didn't know until today that Singulair® was on an FDA watch list. If you're regularly taking any kind of prescription drug, you should probably go take a look. The information you'll find will be good information to know.

Now, all we need is way to subscribe to an RSS feed so we could know when the information gets updated.