Web Research Tools :
How to Research Medical and Psychological Topics on the Internet

Carol Watkins, MD

Northern County Psychiatric Associates


Use the Internet for Medical and Psychiatric Research

     The web can be a good source of information about psychiatric conditions and other mental health issues. Since it is so easy and inexpensive to put information up on the World Wide Web, a wide variety of information is present. Often it is necessary to carefully evaluate the source of the data. Both professionals and the general public now have easy access to legitimate medical information as well as inaccurate and misleading material. To make optimal use of the World Wide Web, you need to be able to do your own information searches. Don't think that you need to immediately master the kind of complex search logic used by medical librarians. There are different types of web searches with different levels of complexity. Some are more suited for intuitive thinkers and other more analytical minds. In some cases, you can combine two different basic search techniques in the course of a single search.

     This may sound dry, but in practice it can be exciting, fun and even amusing. One can fantasize about sitting in a conference with a plugged in laptop, pulling up scads of relevant articles and questioning the presenter about them. Some fantasies need to stay just that. Don't actually do this or you will never get invited anywhere. Just sit in back with your laptop and grin.

     A good basic  approach involves web search  engines such as Altavista or Ask Jeeves which have the capacity to do a "natural language search."  One simply enters a question such as"What are the causes of schizophrenia?" The search engine would then list sites with articles about the causes of schizophrenia. If you then wanted to narrow the search to theories related to genetic causes of schizophrenia, many search engines then allow you to press a "refine" or "narrow search" button. In this case, you might want to enter "genetic" to narrow the search. I tend to get to know the technique and general "feel" for one or two general search sites. Google is also an excellent search site which offers a variety of ways to formulate searches.
     If you need more technical articles on schizophrenia, or other medical/psychiatric topic from the medical or educational literature, there are several major indexes to consider. The National Library of Medicine, gives access to free searches of the Index Medicus, a large number of internationally known medical journals. ERIC is a large index of educational journals. CEC Eric Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education is devoted to issues related to disabilities and gifted education.

     Several web search engines such as Google and Atlavista offer a translation system that will translate a web site into your language. One can enter text for translation get a web site translated. This can be useful if one accesses web sites or online journals in French, Italian, Portuguese, German Spanish or other languages. It seemed to do a good job when tested with some simple German translation, but one should probably not make important medical decisions based on these translations alone.

     Medline and some sections of Eric use Boolean Search Operators. Basic information on Boolean Search Operators   would be enough for most searches. For those who wish to do powerful or complex searches, the National Library of Medicine has a page, Syntax of Complex Boolean Expression  which gives more detail for those who wish to do advanced Boolean searches.


Contact Us:
Fax: 410-343-1272
Postal address: We have two locations in Baltimore County
      Monkton Office16829 York Road/PO Box 544/Monkton, MD 21111
      Lutherville Office: 2360 West Joppa Road Suite 223/ Lutherville, MD
Email: [email protected]
Please use telephone for appointments or medical questions.

Carol Watkins, M.D.
Glenn Brynes, Ph.D., M.D.
Rita Preller, LCSW-C

Copyright 2004  Northern County Psychiatric Associates
Last modified: December 14, 2004