Online databases for medical writers

How online databases help medical writers find a needle in a haystack

In any field of medicine, and for any topic you care to choose, there are a bewildering number of papers published every year in an ever-increasing number of journals. This means that, for medical writers starting medical writing assignments, the task of finding relevant studies and papers can seem overwhelming, not to mention potentially time-consuming and frustrating.

However, help is at hand to the time-pressed medical writers via a wide-range of online resources and databases that assist in narrowing down the blizzard of articles into a focused, targeted list that represents the best available evidence and gives your medical writing project the kick-start it needs. To this end, the most commonly used online medical citation databases include powerful search engines that can be customised to your needs and criteria and allow the medical writer to quickly assemble a pertinent collection from the literature. These databases include:

PubMed, which leans towards journals published in America, contains over 22 million citations for biomedical literature from the MEDLINE database, life science journals, and online books, and includes links either to full text papers or publisher websites. Embase, which has more of a European focus, has over 24 million records from 7600 indexed peer-review journals, and covers biomedical literature from 1947 to the present day. PsychINFO, on the other hand, is focused on peer-reviewed literature in the behavioural science and mental health fields, and contains more than 3 million records, and is a go-to resource for medical writing projects in this area.

An excellent source for obtaining systematic reviews and meta-analyses with a high degree of clinical relevance is The Cochrane Library, while the Best Evidence Encyclopedia offers reviews of research-proven educational programmes. Clinical Evidence, published by the BMJ Group, is an international database of systematic overviews on the benefits and harms of treatments.

These extensive and rich online resources typically offer the medical writer a toolbox of powerful filters that can be harnessed to provide more accurate and targeted search results, as well as allowing you to save search strings for re-running at a later date. It is worth familiarising yourself with these tools to get the most out of the databases when starting a medical writing project. However, it is worth bearing in mind that you can only retrieve information and citations from a database if it was entered in the way you would search for it. It is therefore best to keep your searches ‘loose’ in order to capture any outlying, but potentially valuable, studies.

More generally, the internet contains myriad health websites that often claim to be accountable and peer-reviewed, but are not always so reliable. They should be used with caution, and sparingly. Google Scholar (, for example, can be seen as a back-up source of information, while Wikipedia ( can be useful in getting up to speed with unfamiliar topics.

No time to search for the best available evidence yourself? No worries, our writers would be very happy to help you with literature searches, proof-reading, control of citations and other medical writing services.  Call us to learn more on +41 43 508 03 13 or email us at

About Frank Waaga

Frank has a passion for medical communications and over 12 years of experience providing professional and reliable support to product teams in the pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device industry.
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