What I don’t not like: health search engines

In Evidence-Based Librarianship on March 10, 2009 by Danielle Tagged: , , , , , , ,

If you read this blog regularly, you will know that I am picky. Given the plethora of websites, resources, search engines and ‘time-saving’ tools out there, why not be?  Since I have been politely asked by the folks at AltSearchEngines to give a list of favoured search engines, I am happy to do so below.  I’ve aimed to be realistic as to what my needs are as an information professional–any resource needs to be fairly intuitive to use, reliable, fast, and relevant to the areas of healthcare/social care/ medicine.

Having said all that, and having given it some thought, this is my list of useful search engines/ resources:

Health Search Engines

1. Trip Database

While working on a project to answer doctors’ clinical questions in 15 minutes or less, this was my first point of call, nearly all the time.  It is simple–type in a condition, say, and it pops up a list of result giving you the title, source and year. You can limit into meaningful categories: clinical queries, guidelines (by country), systematic reviews, and e-text books. It has improved over the years by becoming open source and now has more filtering options.

I’ve previously blogged on Trip Answers, a compendium of clinical questions and answers that is searchable.

2. OvidSP Medline

Not a very original or cutting-edge choice. However, it is reliable if you consider the alternatives (Ebsco Cinahl, anyone?).  And fairly user-friendly-you can go behind the scenes and edit your search and last year they introduced a number of changes to allow you to OR or AND by checking boxes, as well as remove search lines right on the live search screen (previously you had to go to another screen to do this). A change that didn’t sit well with me was the decision to put the search history below the text box where you’d enter your search. Perhaps due to several people making a stink about this, it was changed so you can now have the search history either below or above the text box. Options such as saving references, rerunning searches, and creating auto-alerts are generally good. Greater flexibility is needed–I like a big font on my browser and this is poorly accommodated by many websites, including OvidSP (the display area for citations is narrowed by having an Ovid tip box on the right).

3. Intute

Pre-vetted resources by subject-specialists in areas of health, science, tech, social sciences, and arts/ humanities. I like Intute’s brilliant search options: browse by MeSH or by keywords. It is like a happy and fun version of the internet–someone else has already gone ahead and removed the rubbish so you don’t have to wade through it.

4. Cochrane Library

I like nothing better than to have a wallow through a systematic review or two to find inspiration for planning a systematic search.  Thank you, Cochrane, for usually posting the actual search strategies and not just a random spew of keywords in your reviews.  I quite like that the search provides a one-stop shop to: Cochrane reviews, other reviews, clinical trials, health technology assessments, economic evaluations and methods studies. There is an ok but slightly time-consuming-to-use browse by topic functionality.

5. NLH Specialist Libraries

I wouldn’t recommend doing a grey literature search without checking here. It has a good browse functionality (if you have read this far, you may have picked up on the fact I quite appreciate good browse functionality). For instance, you can browse the Cancer Specialist Library by body site of the cancer (lung, breast, upper gastrointestinal, etc.). I would hate to see all this hard work bulldozed by the impending arrival of NHS Evidence, as NLH is not a passing trend.

General Search Engines

1. StumbleUpon

This is very handy for finding blogs or just good websites on a topic–especially if you have an open mind about what it is you might want.  Serendipity is an important element to searching.  I like to stumble by putting in a basic search such as ‘autism blog’ and seeing what I get. I like the quality control option whereby you can say if a link is broken or inappropriate. You can stumble upon WordPress blogs.

2. Kallout

Kallout is a recent addition for me. What I do like is that it integrates with MS Office products. It allows you to do a Google search by simply highlighting a word or words. Other options let you look something up in Wikipedia, YouTube or many other options. I do not love that it runs in the background (taking up valuable memory), but it is the most recent search to excite me, so I’d recommend checking it out.

3.  Cuil

I have been checking this one out lately too, no doubt well after the first yes-men and nay-sayers have sounded off. I like the beauty of the results (the layout is a bit like an encyclopaedia and it brought me back to the hours I used to spend browsing these as a child) and the categories it suggests for each topic. I will have to test this a little more to see how best it can be used. If you search for a specific condition, Cuil brings up researchers on the topic–this could be a great commissioning, fundraising, or research tool.

If there are any search engines that you use and are feeling evangelical about, please let me know and give me reasons why you like them.


13 Responses to “What I don’t not like: health search engines”

  1. Hello Danielle,

    Great list. May I have your permission to republish it on AltSearchEngines? With full attribution, of course.

    Charles Knight, editor

  2. Hi Charles,

    Thank you! I’d be happy for you to put this on Altsearchengines.


  3. RE: KallOut Firefox Add-on at

    Thanks for the great list. KallOut is the most recent search tool to excite me as well. FYI, KallOut just released an awesome firefox add-on version of KallOut called Kallout-Accelerators for Firefox. The Kallout add-on runs super fast in the background and it’s super light-weight. I never notice it’s there until I need it. Check out:


  4. Hi RP,

    Thanks for pointing me to the Firefox add-on for Kallout. I’ve added it and will enjoy playing with it in the next little while. I like the fact that you can disable Kallout in programs where it is less useful (for me that is in Excel) also.

    thanks for reading!


  5. Hi Danielle,

    What do you use for grey literature?

    Here are some suggestions:


  6. Hi Dean,

    That is a nice list you have compiled with plenty of interesting details on the search engines. I have used SumSearch but at the time (3 years ago) I thought TripDatabase did the job better or more easily. PubMed is one I’ve used a lot but strangely never felt very comfortable using it–Ovid seems a lot more intuitive/ reliable to me. Or if I want citation info, I usually just pop the ‘known quantities’ into Google or Google scholar. I will check out the others you list, especially Scirus and Oaister. Do you have any faves of this list?


  7. […] said all that, and having given it some thought, this is my list of useful search engines / […]


    Thanks Danielle!

    Good luck with the job search!

    May I apply for your blogroll?


  9. Danielle,

    At the end of 2008, http://www.altsearchengines selected the top 10 health search engines for the year ( took top honors. Mednar is a federated search engine, not a crawler. It searches 47 sites simultaneously (to see what they are, go to the advanced search page – Since it is a federated search, it indexes nothing. It utilizes the native search tools available at each of the 47 related sites. If you follow the search links, you’ll find a search box at all of the sources. Mednar maps your search string to each of the sites, executes the search, and then aggregates, de-duplicates, ranks, and clusters the results. This ensures that the latest relevant additions to the 47 databases are always in the search results and presented to the user. The clustering assists in rapidly honing in on your specific topic.

    There are a handful of subscription databases in the collection. If you are IP authenticated at your site, you’ll be able to click through to the document. If not, you’re given the option to purchase. This site was intended for the medical professional who is likely subscribing to the pay-per-view databases.

    Hope this helps you to find “useful” health search tools.


    • Hi Terry,

      I tried Mednar again and it just doesn’t feel natural. I am sure a lot of work went into it and all, but at the end of the day, I will end up using something that is intuitive and right now I fall back a lot on Google Scholar, Trip, Pubmed and suchlike.

      Perhaps if Mednar puts up a good user guide I’d be more inclined to give it another go.


  10. Interesting Pile

    A librarian posts links to things he thinks are interesting, such as lists, games, quizzes, foodstuffs, book reviews and neat sites

    5 solid health search engines

  11. Dean’s list of gray literature search tools is very helpful and comprehensive. I would add to it Mednar (see Terry’s note above), as that is specifically designed for Deep Web searching in science and would also include as that is a gateway to the gray literature in English of English and non-English speaking countries. Much of the material is not medical specifically, but is nevertheless useful for medical librarians and clinical researchers. GoPubMed is something else Dean might consider adding to his list.

  12. Hi Danielle,

    Good list, but I too think that mednar should be included in your list. I have found it to be very useful.

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