Best Medical Search Engines A Comprehensive Guide in 2022

Research has transformed the face of the medical industry and any new progress in medicines and procedures can all be attributed to it. A critical component of research is a literature review, which involves sourcing scientific articles, research papers, conference proceedings, and much more to support the findings of your paper. Without it, your claims hold no value.

Since searching primary resources for information can be inconvenient, many medical search engines have developed online as centralized platforms to look for literature on any medical topic within seconds. Since no one should be expected to go through all of them, the five best ones and suggestions for when you might need to use them are discussed below in detail.

1. PubMed

Available publicly since 1996, PubMed is the most popular medical search engine. It is free of cost, user-friendly, and a reliable source of highly authoritative literature, making it the standard in the healthcare profession. It is exclusively used for biomedical and life sciences research, while it does contain relevant fields such as bioengineering and behavioral sciences too.

PubMed is maintained by the US National Institute of Health (NIH) and therefore searches all databases that come under the US National Library of Medicine (NLM). These include:

  • MEDLINE – making up 98% of PubMed
  • PubMed Central (PMC) – a repository of full-text articles that have been permitted by NLM to go public
  • Bookshelf – Archive of books and reports from the medical and life sciences disciplines

Approximately 30,000 journals are included under PubMed.

PubMed retrieves the abstracts and citations of the articles relevant to your search terms but does not contain the full-text articles. If full text is available, it will display a link to the publisher’s website. While it does not make public how it performs a search, it allows individuals to make highly specific searches using MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) terms to yield particular articles.

Given the easy accessibility, vast literature, relevance to the medical field, and the ability to significantly filter data, it is often the first and only medical search engine healthcare researchers use.

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2. ScienceDirect

Although not as popular or accessible as PubMed, ScienceDirect is another notable search engine for medical research. For starters, there is a difference between the databases it searches articles in. Unlike PubMed which scours over directories under the NLM, ScienceDirect allows you to find literature from over 2700 medical, science, and technology journals owned by a publishing company known as Elsevier.

All of Elsevier’s journals publish peer-reviewed articles, and one of the most important databases it owns is EMBASE (Excerpta Medica Database). Information stored in this database among others can often have remarkable effects on a research’s findings, making it a go-to healthcare search engine for many. Additionally, it contains full-text articles that can be exported as a PDF, if you are conducting a study that warrants reading more than just the abstract.

However, ScienceDirect is not freely available to all. It requires a login for most articles, while some may be freely available.

Since Elsevier has full control over the journals it includes in the database, it eliminates the concern of unreliable and inaccurate data and updates its medical search engine’s content daily instead of weekly like other competitors. It does not, however, have a controlled vocabulary for a search like PubMed does with MeSH terms.

ScienceDirect is similar to another healthcare search engine called SpringerLink, which covers all journals owned by the publisher Springer.

3. Scopus

Scopus Medical Search Engine

Scopus is another resourceful medical search engine that can be seen as an amalgamation of PubMed and ScienceDirect. It is an abstract and citation repository that looks for literature in several databases, including both MEDLINE and EMBASE. Containing more than double the number of records in PubMed, it has the most extensive database of publications and convention proceedings in industries ranging from engineering and medicine to sociological studies.

While it is a highly sought-after medical search engine by many healthcare experts and researchers, a huge reason why it is not more popular than PubMed is accessibility. It requires a subscription, especially for full-text articles from some journals. Another drawback to Scopus is its limitation to recent articles. It does not contain any literature from before 1995.

It indexes over 36,000 journals of which higher than 34,300 are peer-reviewed, making it the largest database available to institutions worldwide and a useful search engine for medical research.

4. Cochrane Library

Cochrane Library is the best medical search engine when it comes to systematic reviews and meta-analyses, which hold the highest position on the evidence pyramid. While the other mentioned databases also display these two high-impact forms of evidence, the exclusivity of this healthcare search engine towards them makes the quality and quantity of results much better.

It explores literature mainly in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (CSDR) and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL). While the latter is the number one resource for peer-reviewed systematic reviews in the healthcare field, the latter is the same for randomized control trials (RCTs). Its search results can also contain trials from other databases like MEDLINE and EMBASE.

A useful component of this medical search engine is Cochrane Clinical Answers, which is a valuable tool for quick and accessible information in the form of clinical questions, a short answer, and relevant data that supports that viewpoint. This is beneficial for professionals who do not have the time to explore multiple resources for an answer.

Like ScienceDirect and Scopus, Cochrane Library is also not free. While some articles may have open access, depending on the year of publishing, most others require a subscription, but its utility in systematic reviews and meta-analysis makes it a treasured medical search engine.

5. Google Scholar

Google Scholar Medical Search Engine

Although quite different in both databases and functions than other medical search engines, Google Scholar is one of the easiest to use (it is just like Google) and a popular search engine for medical research.

What makes Google Scholar unique is its interdisciplinary nature. It contains scholarly literature from all academic professions, sourcing a wide variety of databases which can sometimes be a beneficial thing but often crowds the useful articles with inadequate and low-impact findings. However, if you want to find some obscure piece of information, Google Scholar is the go-to tool.

It is also a resourceful healthcare search engine to discover non-English sources.

Additionally, Google Scholar provides full-text articles which again is useful in a lot of cases, but since most high-impact journals are not open access, it misses significant literature that you can find with PubMed or Scopus.

It ranks its results by the number of citations, which is easy to manipulate, meaning its top finding is not necessarily the best article. It has its fair share of cons but like PubMed, it is free of cost, and given the abundance of literature it holds, it is hands-down one of the best medical search engines out there.

The Bottom Line

For most research, PubMed is the only healthcare search engine consulted, which is often more than enough. Whether or not you need more depends on the kind of study you are performing. If you need full-text articles from an Elsevier-owned journal, ScienceDirect is crucial, and if you are writing a systematic review, Cochrane can be advantageous.

Either way, the more you supplement your article with data from multiple medical search engines, the more accurate your results are, and the higher the impact of your paper.

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