Public health is a broad, cross-disciplinary field of study. Drawing on information from primary medical research, disease surveillance, public policy, geography, and sociology (to name just a few), public health researchers and practitioners wade through copious amounts of data to answer their research questions. In addition to the major health information resources (think PubMed), many additional online tools exist to aid anyone interested in public health research. Below are examples of some of the many online tools freely available to expert researchers and the general public alike.
CDC WONDER (Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research) brings together all of the epidemiological data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into one search interface. This resource is freely accessible to the public and is intended to be used by public health professionals and the general public alike. The WONDER interface includes databases covering birth and mortality statistics, disease morbidity, and environmental information relevant to health and disease. The information sources discoverable through WONDER include reference materials, reports, guidelines, and statistical research data published by the CDC. Users can browse by health topic or can construct detailed search queries to retrieve targeted results. Additionally, WONDER allows users to generate maps and charts from data extracted from search results to enhance data interpretation.
The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) is an initiative of the Academic Health Center at the University of Minnesota. The purpose of this center is to provide current information about the public health response and preparedness for emerging infectious diseases. This site provides clear overviews about a variety of infectious disease topics as well as links to recent news articles and scholarly literature on these topics. This is a great background information source for anyone interested in learning more about a particular infectious disease. CIDRAP also supports the Antimicrobial Stewardship Project, which provides information on policy and best practices research for antimicrobial use. Particularly useful elements of this project include the series of podcasts and webinars on antibiotic stewardship as well as the policy updates and conference summaries. Other CIDRAP projects include influenza training videos for public health workers as well as BioWatch, an early-warning network to detect biological attacks.
HealthMap is an eye-opening tool to gather real-time data on disease outbreak surveillance and monitoring. Created by software developers at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, HealthMap gathers information about a broad variety of diseases and other public health concerns from multiple sources, including online media outlets, eyewitness accounts, and national and local health agencies. This tool has wide appeal for a variety of audiences—it could certainly be used by epidemiologist and other health officials, as well as policy makers and international travelers. Users can easily search for a specific disease of interest or can observe all of the current public health threats at a specific geographic location. HealthMap also has a mobile app called “Outbreaks Near Me” to make it easier to use for travelers and individuals who are generally interested in local disease occurrences. If you are a germophobe, be warned—HealthMap might keep you up at night!
National Guideline Clearinghouse (NGC) is a one-stop repository of evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Created by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), NGC is a great resource for physicians, health care providers, researchers, and patients to stay current on a variety of treatments and other medical procedures. Users of this site can browse for guideline summaries by clinical specialty, organization, or NLM MeSH terms. These guideline summaries are succinct, easy to read, and comprehensive in synthesizing large amounts of evidence-based research. Recommendations are categorized by the strength or level of evidence from previous studies. In addition to the guideline summaries, NGC also provides a section on guideline syntheses, which are systematic comparisons of guidelines on similar topics. These syntheses provide areas of agreement between the selected guidelines as well as areas of conflict, allowing the reader to make informed assessments of individual guidelines.
TOXNET (TOXicology Data NETwork) is a network of databases related to toxicology, environmental health, hazardous chemicals, and similar disciplines. Created and maintained by the National Library of Medicine, TOXNET provides a wealth of information on chemicals of public health concern, including chemical structure and synonyms, known toxic effects, occurrence in consumer products, and chemical occupational hazards. Users can search all of the 15 databases included in TOXNET simultaneously or they can select only those databases of interest to their search queries. Some of the more popular databases within TOXNET include TOXLINE, Hazardous Substances Data Bank, Household Products Database, ChemIDplus, and TOXMAP. As an added benefit, TOXNET records are linked to the corresponding PubMed record, simplifying citation management and full-text retrieval.
Michael Goates, Life Sciences Librarian, Brigham Young University
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