MedlinePlus for Public Librarians

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1 of 2Welcome!

This tutorial explains why MedlinePlus should be a first choice for public librarians when answering health information questions.

MedlinePlus is the National Library of Medicine's (NLM) premier health information portal for consumers.

Discover the history, selection criteria and sources of MedlinePlus through hands on exercises.

The National Library of Medicine buildings in Bethesda, Maryland.



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Learning Objectives

After taking this tour, you should be able to:

  • Explain why MedlinePlus is an authoritative source of health information for consumers/patients 
  • Identify basic navigation features
  • Identify how to find specific health topic information or tools
  • Identify how to find specific drugs, herbs and supplements information
  • Identify the sources for drug and herbs and supplements safety information

Why MedlinePlus?

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MedlinePlus is the National Institutes of Health's Web site for patients and the general public. Produced by the National Library of Medicine, it offers understandable information about diseases, conditions, and wellness issues. MedlinePlus offers trusted, current health information, anytime, anywhere, on any device, for free.

Click to go to the About MedlinePlus Page

Scroll down to watch a 2 minute video on the basic navigation features. 

Why MedlinePlus?

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MedlinePlus began in 1998 with 22 health topics as a means of providing the general public with accurate health information from trusted sources. In 2002, MedlinePlus en Español was released with nearly 500 health topics. Today there are 1000 Health Topics in English and Spanish.

Why MedlinePlus?

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MedlinePlus Sources

There are over 35,000 links to health information in MedlinePlus.

MedlinePlus links to information produced by the National Library of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health and other trusted health-related organizations within the U.S. Federal Government, such as:

  • Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)
Links to other websites, particularly ones with unique information or special features, are included if they meet specific Quality Guidelines.
Click to view MedlinePlus Quality Guidelines

Why MedlinePlus?

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MedlinePlus Quality Guidelines

There are 3 major guidelines for selecting resources to include in MedlinePlus:

  • Quality, authority and accuracy of health content
  • The primary purpose of the Web page is educational and not to sell a product or service. Most content is available at no charge.
  • Web pages are reliable and regularly maintained

Read specific criteria for each Quality Guideline, then take a quiz! 

Why MedlinePlus?

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Knowledge Check

How well do you know the MedlinePlus Quality Guidelines?

Take a quiz.

True or False: MedlinePlus organizes publications produced by the NIH Institutes and other health-related Federal Government organizations, and also other Web sites with unique information or special features such as diagrams, glossaries, or format tailored to particular user needs if they meet the quality guidelines.

True or False: MedlinePlus gives preference to pages with no advertising and requires a clear differentiation between content and advertising.

True or false: MedlinePlus requires that web pages are current, or an update date is provided.

Why MedlinePlus?

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Why MedlinePlus? Key Points

  • MedlinePlus contains over 35,000 links to authoritative health information
  • MedlinePlus follows 3 major Quality Guidelines for selection of content

Health Topics

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The backbone of MedlinePlus are the individual health topics. There are over 1,000 health topics in English and Spanish.

Click to view MedlinePlus Homepage

You can find health topics either by searching or browsing alphabetically.

Health Topics

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Search for a health topic 
On the right side of the page is the Search box.  You can use this to search all of MedlinePlus.

medlineplus search box


  • Enter the term "opioid" in the Search box 
  • Click "Go"

Where could you go to find health topics?

TIP: Refine by Type

Health Topics

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Find the Refine by Type Filter.
Click on "Health Topics".medlineplus search results health topics 
There around 18 results for "opioid".

Health Topics

4 of 25Click on results to view a health topic, such as Opioid Abuse and Addiction, shown below. 
 opioids health topic

Health Topics

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Searching is one way to find a health topic page. Let's explore another way: browsing.

Click the MedlinePlus logo to return to the MedlinePlus Homepage

medlineplus logo

TIP: MedlinePlus Logo

Health Topics

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Browse Health Topics

Click on either one of the blue Health Topic graphics to browse search topics.

 MedlinePlus Health Topics

Health Topics

7 of 252 options are available to browse Health Topics.

Find Topics A-Z

Find topics A-Z

Browse health topics alphabetically, or view a full list. 

Health Topics

8 of 25Browse by Health Topic Groups

Browse by Category
You can also browse by 5 different groups 

    • Body Location/Systems
    • Diagnosis and Therapy
    • Disorders and Conditions
    • Demographic Groups
    • Health and Wellness

Think of a health topic that interests you. How would you look for it? Searching or Browsing?

Health Topics

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There are two "sizes" of health topics. Some health topics are designed to be a comprehensive resource for consumer health information needs, while other more specific topics may contain more abbreviated information

1. Comprehensive Health topics: designed to be a one-stop shop for patient/consumer health information on a specific health topic. (Example: Exercise and Physical Fitness

2. Health topiclette: a more specific, briefer version of a health topic.  (Example: How Much Exercise Do I Need?)

Click the links above to compare. What differences do you see? 

Health Topics

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Differences and Similarities

Comprehensive health topics have much more information, while a health topiclette is a written summary with fewer, but more specific links.

Note that all written content is:

  • Copyright free
  • Sixth-grade reading level or below
  • Author attributed in italics under written content

Click to view comprehensive health topic example: Breast Cancer.


Health Topics

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Anatomy of a Health Topic

Health Topics include six major focus topic TOC

  • Basics
  • Learn More
  • See, Play and Learn
  • Research
  • Resources
  • For You

Each focus area is further broken down into sub-areas.

Content in the sub-area varies depending on health topic.  

Health Topics

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Basics include a written Summary that provides a narrative overview of the topic. The content is:
  • Copyright free
  • Sixth-grade reading level 
  • Author attributed in italics under written content

Start Here includes the best links to external content. 

  • Usually less than 5 links
  • Selected using Quality Guidelines 
  • Regularly verified for currency, relevance and authority by MedlinePlus librarians 

The sub-areas Diagnosis and Tests, Prevention and Risk Factors, and Treatments and Therapies include links to authoritative sources.

Health Topics

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Learn More

breast cancer learn more
Learn more provides information about living with a disease or condition, topics related to a disease or condition, specific aspects of a disease or condition, and 
genetic aspects.

Health Topics

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See, Play and Learn
breast cancer video
See, Play and Learn lists videos and tutorials, health check tools such as interactive calculators and games, and links to images.  

Health Topics

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breast cancer research
Research provides numerical data and the latest research from National Instititutes of Health databases such as and  

Health Topics

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breast cancer resources
Resources include a Reference Desk of dictionaries or specific encyclopedias or glossaries. Find an Expert links to organizations and/or specialty healthcare professionals.

Health Topics

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For You
breast cancer for you
For You provides content for specific populations and patient handouts.  

Health Topics

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Heath Topics - Knowledge Check

Go to the "Weight Control" health topic page and answer the following question: In what sub-topic would you find a Calorie Counter?


Go to the "Depression" health topic and answer the following question: In which sub-topic would you find information about depression and African-Americans?

Go to the "Opioid Abuse and Addiction" health topic and answer the following question: What subtopic has information about opioid terms?

Health Topics

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Health Topics: Know the source

Each record in a MedlinePlus health topic lists the source of the information on the link, so you will know where you are going before you click on it.


  • Heart Attack (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)
  • Syphilis in pregnancy (March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation)
  • Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) in Newborns (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Health Topics

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MedlinePlus also has certain specially tagged records.

Specific NIH content:

NIH records

Easy-to-Read and availability in Spanish:




Health Topics

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Health Topics: Medical Encyclopedia

In addition to the content that is available in the sub-topics, MedlinePlus also include links to specific Medical Encyclopedia entries.


  • Search for the health topic "Hepatitis C."
  • Click on the Medical Encyclopedia entry for "Liver Biopsy."

Who is the author of the information about liver biopsy in the medical encyclopedia? 

Health Topics

22 of 25The A.D.A.M. logo appears at the bottom of the page. 

ADAM logo

A.D.A.M., Inc. is the source of information for the MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. You can find this information at the bottom of every medical encyclopedia entry in MedlinePlus.

A.D.A.M. is a company that provides health care information and multimedia visual learning assets for hospitals, health care organizations, educational institutions, employers and the pharmaceutical industry.

Health Topics

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Health Topics: Related Topics

MedlinePlus provides links to Related Health Topics.


  • Search for the health topic "Obesity".
  • Click on the Related Health Topic entry for "Weight Loss Surgery".

What is another Related Health Topic for "Weight Loss Surgery"?

Health Topics

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Health Topics: Other Languages
MedlinePlus provides links to Other Languages on select health topics.
  • Search for the health topic "Suicide."
  • Find "Other Languages" box 

Is there content on suicide in Tagalog?


Health Topics

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Health Topics Takeaways
Health Topics provide the backbone of MedlinePlus health information.
  • Updated regularly
  • Attributed authors
  • Authoritative links
  • Easy to read summaries
Now discover Drugs & Supplements.
Click to return to the MedlinePlus homepage.

Drugs & Supplements

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Searching for Drugs & Supplements
Drugs & Supplements provides over 1,000 records on prescription and nonprescription drugs.
One way to find Drugs and Supplements information is by using the search box on the MedlinePlus homepage. 
medlineplus search box

Drugs & Supplements

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  • Enter "ritalin" into the Search box.
  • Click "Go".
You are now on the search results page.  There are 71 results, but how do you determine which ones will go the Drugs & Supplements?
TIP: Refine by Type

Drugs & Supplements

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Use the Refine by Type filter to view only Drugs and Supplements.
refine by type filter
There are around 16 results for 'ritalin'
Notice the first result is for Methylphenidate.
The Drug database uses both brand and generic names for drugs.  Methylphenidate is another term for ritalin
Click on the first result: Methylphenidate

Drugs & Supplements

4 of 15Anatomy of a MedlinePlus Drug Record
The Drug record consists of a series of questions that link to answers.
drugs questions

Drugs & Supplements

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Also note the Important Warning box, outlined in red. 
These only appear of drugs that have been issued a warning by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  
Important warning box

Drugs & Supplements

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Drug Information - Know the Source
Scroll to the bottom of the page.
The drug record is licensed information from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), Inc.
 ASHP logo
The ASHP logo appears on drug pages from this source.
A last revised date is included at the bottom of the page.
Now you know the anatomy of a drug record.
Click to return to the MedlinePlus homepage

Drugs & Supplements

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You can also browse Drugs & Supplements

Click on either one of the blue Health Topic graphics to browse.

Drugs and Supplements

Drugs & Supplements

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Using either the search box or "Browse by generic or brand name" or the MedlinePlus search box, find "Xyzal®".

Xyzal is the brand name for the drug Levocetirizine.

 Click to return to Drugs & Supplements

Drugs & Supplements

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Herbs and Supplements 

Herbs and Supplements provides information on the effectiveness, dosage and drug interactions for over 175 dietary supplements and herbal remedies.

Many American take both herbal/supplements and prescription medications unaware of side effects; that the potency of either treatment may cancel each other out or could even be dangerous.

Click All Herbs and Supplements 

All herbs and supplements

Drugs & Supplements

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Notice all herbs and supplements are listed alphabetically, and some include icons 

NCCIH Natural Medicines logos

Sources of Herbs and Supplements Information

Two sources provide this information:

  • U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)
  • Natural Medicine's Comprehensive Database Consumer Version.  

Logos appear on herbs and supplements pages from these sources.

Drugs & Supplements

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The information looks different depending on the source. 

Click on the NCCIH record for Acai.

Notice it opens in a new window. 


Drugs & Supplements

12 of 15Click on the Natural Medicine's Comprehensive Database record for American Ginseng.

Notice it opens within MedlinePlus. 

The question-based format is similar to a drug record.

american ginseng

Drugs & Supplements

13 of 15Scroll to the bottom of the American Ginseng record. 

Notice the logo for Natural Medicine's Comprehensive Database.

NMCD logo

A last revised date is included. 


Drugs & Supplements

14 of 15Exercise:

Using either the MedlinePlus search box or the A-Z list on the Herbs and Supplements page, search for "Reishi Mushroom".

Which form of Reishi mushroon is possibly unsafe?

Using either the MedlinePlus search box or the A-Z list on the Herbs and Supplements page, search for "Grape Seed Extract".

How effective is grape seed extract on lowering cholesterol?

Drugs & Supplements

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Drugs & Supplements Key Points
  • Search or browse for 1000+ drugs, and 175 herbs and supplements on Medlineplus. 
  • Drugs and supplements information comes from several sources. Logos indicate the source. 
 TIP: MedlinePlus Information Sources
Last, we'll tour a few more homepage features on MedLinePlus

More Features

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More homepage features include: 
  • MedlinePlus in Español
  • Responsive Design
  • Medical Encyclopedia
  • Videos & Tools
  • Medical Tests
Let's explore!

More Features

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MedlinePlus in Español

MedlinePlus is fully available in Spanish.  You can toggle between the English and Spanish pages.


  • Click on the orange Español graphic. 
  • What differences do you see?

More Features

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MedlinPlus Espanol blue and orange logo
The Spanish site is a mirror of the English site as far as layout and content.
The Español graphic is located on the upper right side of every page in MedlinePlus in Español.
Health topics and drugs provide information, graphics, videos, and links to authoritative websites in Spanish. 
Click on the Green English graphic to return to the MedlinePlus homepage in English.

More Features

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Responsive Design

MedlinePlus is designed to match the layout of different mobile devices. 

Try this: resize your browser window and note how the content adjusts to the size of your screen.


More Features

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Videos & Tools

MedlinePlus offers variety of videos and tools, including surgery videos, interactive health calculators and games.

MedlinePlus Videos & Tools

More Features

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  • Click on either Videos & Tools graphic.
  • Find the Search all Videos & Tutorials search box (left side of screen). 

Videos & Tools Search

  • Enter the terms "high blood pressure" and click "Go"
  • Locate the video titled "Blood pressure"

More Features

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Medical Tests

MedlinePlus offers an A-Z list of common medical tests.

medical tests

More Features

8 of 14Exercise:

    • Locate "Stress Tests" on the A-Z list.
    • Skim the contents and answer the following:

Which of the following is not a result of a stress test?


More Features

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Medical Encyclopedia
MedlinePlus licenses a Medical Encyclopedia from A.D.A.M. Over 4,000 articles, videos and graphics are available in English and Spanish.
You can search the Medical Encyclopedia using the A-Z list.

More Features

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  • Locate "Stroke" in the Medical Encyclopedia.
  • You'll need to "Click To Keep Reading" for more content.
  • In "Images" review the Stroke Series.

    Go through the Stroke series to answer the following: what is another name for a blood clot?

More Features

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More Resources on the Homepage
All of these links open in a new window:

More Features

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  • Click on the Easy-to-Read link located at the bottom left of the MedlinePlus homepage
  • Go to “Psoriasis” and click on “What Is Psoriasis”
  • Read the article and answer the following:

If you have psoriasis, you are more likely to get some other conditions, except:

More Features

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MedlinePlus Homepage Key Points

In addition to being a launching point to Health Topics and Drugs, Herbs and Supplements, the MedlinePlus Homepage also provides:

  • MedlinePlus in Español
  • Responsive Design
  • Medical Encyclopedia
  • Videos & Tools
  • Medical Tests

as well as: 

  • Healthy Recipes
  • Easy-to-Read Materials
  • Organizations and Directories of major health organizations
  • Health Information in Multiple Languages
  • Newsletters, social media and MedlinePlus Magazine

Knowledge Check

You've almost completed this course.  Take one final Knowledge Check try out what you have learned.

Return to the MedlinePlus Homepage to begin. 

Go to the Medical Encyclopedia and locate "Knee joint replacement." How long is a full recovery from a knee joint replacement procedure?

Which resource of MedlinePlus would have a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) Risk Assessment?

In the MedlinePlus Quality Guidelines, within the "Availability and maintenance of the Web page" section, which statement is not correct?

True or False. You can find information on disaster preparation on MedlinePlus?

Which MedlinePlus resource is not available in Spanish?

What is another name for "Barrenwort"?

Congratulations you have completed the Knowledge Check!



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MedlinePlus is an authoritative source of health information for consumers/patients because it offers information about diseases, conditions, and wellness issues in language you can understand. MedlinePlus offers reliable, up-to-date health information, anytime, anywhere, for free, and advertisement-free.

MedlinePlus Sources

  • Content from the 27 institutes and centers of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Other Federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Licensed content from American Society of Health-System Pharmacists and Natural Medicine's Comprehensive Database Consumer Version, A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia, and Nature Medicines


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This completes the course MedlinePlus for Public Librarians.

There is an option to print and email a certificate of completion and your answers to the quiz on the next page. 

If you have any comments or questions about this tutorial please contact: 

If you have any questions relating to MedlinePlus please contact: Customer Support

Updated April 10, 2019. 


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