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From meditation to magnets, the vast popularity of unconventional medical therapies has risen sharply over the past decade to the extent that in 1997, Americans spent an estimated $21 billion out-of-pocket for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments. Recognizing the need to provide authoritative CAM information to health care practitioners and consumers, the National Center for Complemen-tary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) in Silver Spring, MD, and the National Library of Medicine (NLM) in Bethesda, MD, recently teamed up to launch a CAM subset of the enormous PubMed database. It will provide free Internet-based access to scientific data.
PubMed, part of the NLM, has more than 11 million citations in a free database that includes MEDLINE plus additional research materials unavailable elsewhere. CAM on PubMed offers access to more than 240,000 abstracts from 1966 to the present, references, and some full-text articles on complementary therapies — a valuable resource for health care professionals searching for modalities that may help patients or searching for answers to questions asked by patients.
"There are a few journals devoted specifically to CAM therapies, but there are thousands of articles spread through the 4,500 journals we index as part of our total PubMed database," says CAM on PubMed developer Sheldon Kotzin, chief of the NLM’s bibliographical services division. Kotzin said it simply "seemed natural" to extract a subset to make it simpler to pull out CAM information.
For example, a search for "vitamin C" on PubMed’s 11 million citation database retrieves 20,832 abstracts of all types of research conducted on vitamin C. A similar search in the CAM subset of PubMed retrieves 1,659 abstracts, which would be of specific use to a health care practitioner looking for complementary therapies for a patient. A smaller subset reduces searching and reading time. A search for something more esoteric, "meditation," for example, turns up the same 745 citations in both databases.
Kotzin recommends searching for CAM therapies by typing in a disease condition on CAM on PubMed’s search line. "For example, type in arthritis, and you’ll get a return of the current body of information on complementary therapies for arthritis," he says. Clicking on the article brings up an abstract and often a link to the full-text article, plus an option to click on related articles.
PubMed has 120,000 users a day, conducting about 700 searches a minute. "This is a dynamic database," says Kotzin. "That means that as we add to the main PubMed database every week, CAM on PubMed will grow."
"I think this is an extraordinary tool," says Steven Strauss, MD, NCCAM director, who worked with the NLM to formulate the CAM subset. "The opportunity to join forces with the world’s largest resource for biomedical literature represents a major step in mainstreaming CAM research information." NCCAM and the NLM both are divisions of the National Institutes of Medicine.
There are two ways to find complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) information on PubMed, which is part of the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, MD:
1. Go to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine web site (www.nccam.nih.gov) and click on the CAM on PubMed icon at the center of the page. You will be switched automatically. It’s a good idea to bookmark the site.
2. Go directly to PubMed’s site (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi). When the search box appears, click on "Limits" and click on "complementary medicine" in the subset box. That will limit any search to the CAM subset.