The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 2, 2008

Library review: Online medical guide is quite the bargain

Every once in a while, a bargain comes along that you just can’t pass up, and it makes you feel good that you were able to get something so wonderful for so little. That is what happened when I was able to add Magill’s Medical Guide to the reference collection at the library.

In the library world, the cost of buying reference resources in comparison to other library materials is like buying a Porsche Carrera, a Mercedes SLR McLaren or even a Bugatti Veyron ($1,192,057) instead of a Chevy or Ford. In addition to the high cost of print reference books, if you want to offer access to the book electronically (online) you have to pay a separate, usually higher, charge to the publisher. Salem Press, which publishes the Magill’s Medical Guide, has done something completely different. When the library purchased the five-volume set (at a relatively low price for a reference set) we got access to Salem Health, the online version, free!

That is the bargain part, now comes the wonderful part. Salem Health offers up-to-date, easy to use, authoritative medical information presented in a way we can all understand. You can learn about diseases, disorders, diagnostic tools, treatments, the basics of human anatomy and physiology and medical specialties.

The homepage of Salem Health contains the search box, action tabs, and a monthly spotlight on different health topics. You can do a simple search from this screen with the choice to search in the full text, abstract, title or key terms. If the simple search does not net the results you want, click on the advanced search button. The resulting screen gives explanations for what you need to supply in the search boxes and the option to limit by categories.

A simple search on Huntington’s results in 23 articles covering diseases, genetics, the nervous system, the brain, medical specialties, symptoms and treatments. Each entry has an abstract on the content of the article. You have the option to save some or all of the articles and/or your search to an account. Setting up an account is a simple registration process requiring your name, e-mail address and a password of your choice. At the top of the results you have the option to click on a tab that sorts the article by gender or age. So you can narrow the 23 results to two by clicking on the “Children” tab, or one if you choose the “Women” tab.

Choose the article on Huntington’s disease and you can read about the genetic factors that cause the disease, the symptoms, treatment and research. On the left side of the screen you have a table of contents and an Information box listing in short terms the cause, symptoms, duration and treatments. There are also “See Also” links for related articles and a bibliography for further information. You have the option to save the article and to view the article citation.

The “Action” tabs at the top of every page let you switch easily to perform other searches, browse topics, search alphabetically through the subject index or a feature, find words and definitions in the glossary, or look at your profile (account). The “Search” tab has the simple search box, instructions for searching and an explanation of the results screen. Using “Browse,” you can search through the different categories in anatomy and physiology, diagnosis and testing, mental health, and social issues among others.

The “Index” tab not only lets you search through the database by the subject terms but you can also search by the “Feature” index. The features include the contents, anatomy/system affected, specialties, symptoms and warning signs, pharmaceutical list and more. So if you want to look up abdominal pain in the lower left side, you can choose “Symptoms & Warning Signs” from the features, then click “Go.” If you scroll down the list displayed, you get a list of possible conditions for this symptom, one of which is kidney stones. You can then find information on kidney stones using the search box on the left side of the page.

Salem Health is a wonderful tool to use from your home 24/7; just go to the library homepage ( and choose “Reference,” then “Online Services and Health.” You can also come into the library and use it from a reference computer or use the print edition. What a bargain!

Patty Crane is the reference librarian at the Joplin Public Library.