Can I access medical journals?
November 22, 2009 8:30 AM   Subscribe

How can I access medical publications and journals?

My child may have a neurological issue. I'm trying to do online research so I can educate myself about this problem and I'm blocked by the requirements to pay for medical publications and journals. I can't believe I'm asking this, I totally understand the idea of paying for access but I can't afford it, especially with the looming therapy and doctor bills that are coming. Is there any place that allows regular people to access this info? If I go to a brick and mortar library, could I get them? I know about all the medical info sights, I'm not asking about those. I need a way to access and research extremely specific articles in medical publications. Articles meant for physicians, academics, etc. I'm not trying to armchair diagnose my child, just educate myself to be the best advocate of care.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Here in Iceland, there is usually very good access to this type of journal and publication stuff in public libraries, especially the university libraries. Good luck!
posted by krilli at 8:34 AM on November 22, 2009

Apologies if you already know about PubMed, but it's a good place to start.
posted by box at 8:35 AM on November 22, 2009

You could walk into the library of any medical school. They have the paper copies of almost every major journal ever published sitting on shelves. You can't check them out, but you could make copies of the desired papers.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:37 AM on November 22, 2009

Charities and advocacy groups and online forums related to aforesaid neurological issue often have lots of articles you can read. Maybe not on websites, but maybe if you email 'em and ask.

Good luck.
posted by By The Grace of God at 8:39 AM on November 22, 2009

Although many universities are beginning to limit access to their libraries, especially their computer systems, some still have open access to both. If you have a university library near you, you can try to head in and see if you can plop down at a computer and fire it up - some may still not require a login if they're inside the library. That should give you access to a large bit of journals.

If that doesn't work, many university libraries will allow locals access for a small fee. Or, if you know someone at the university, they might have access.

Just a couple of ideas.
posted by SNWidget at 8:39 AM on November 22, 2009

Academic libraries are your best bet. Or, you could do a Google Scholar search and hope that it returns you PDFs. If there are just a few specific articles you want, send me a private message and I can try to get them for you.
posted by emilyd22222 at 8:39 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you can find which author on a paper is the corresponding author, you can email them and ask for a copy of the paper for personal use. Use that phrase, "for my own personal use". Specify that you're requesting either a paper copy or an electronic copy, whichever is more convenient for them. Most times the paper will be sent to you within a couple of days, at no charge.

Our city's public library carries a number of scientific journals at their downtown branch. If they do not carry a particular journal, we can use Interlibrary Loan to request a copy of a paper that appears in it. It can take weeks to get the paper, sometimes.

This previous question asked about online access but has some answers relevant to your question.
posted by Ery at 8:54 AM on November 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Other parents are also a good resource. See if there's a support group for the issue your child may have, and ask them - they will have been in the same position, and some of them may already have copies of the papers you're interested in that they'd be happy to e-mail you.

Also, medical papers are scary and difficult to interpret. I'd recommend reading the series of articles on How To Read A Paper from the BMJ before you start on articles specific to your child (there's also a book with the same title that goes into more depth on the subject). You have to register with the BMJ to get those articles, but it's a free registration.
posted by Coobeastie at 9:01 AM on November 22, 2009

Seconding academic institutions. You can just stroll in to any of the libraries in my college, and use a public computer to get access to these. Is there any chance a mod could post your location so locals could suggest specifics?
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 9:04 AM on November 22, 2009

Leaving aside public libraries and access to academic libraries - which are local issues and you can find out by dropping a message to the librarians as required - I think Ery pretty much says it all above.

I'm in a completely different field but quite often get article requests for stuff I've written. Sometimes an email, sometimes even through the post (!?) someone says "Can I have a copy of this article you wrote?" and I just bung a pdf to them (or a paper thing in an envelope if they don't include their email address on the card/letter). Academics want their work to be read; it's the journals that get in the way. Similarly lots of people will mount pdfs of pre-publication work on the website, so check out the websites of people who are named on papers you're interested in (sometimes, author 1 won't bother putting it up but author 4 will, so this can be a painstaking process).

And if you can't find it you need a tame academic in a university with a medical department. If a friend were to email me the occasional direct link to article downloads they were interested in, I'd probably grab the pdf and email it right back.
posted by handee at 9:11 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd just like to add that I am quite tame and would be happy to assist.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 9:17 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes, you should be able to search PubMed for free, and many of the articles indexed on PubMed are free to the public if they are funded by National Institutes of Health $$$. See here.

If you have a university library nearby, you should be able to download articles from journals that are subscribed to with an institutional subscription - for example I can download any article ever published from the Journal of the American Chemical Society, as long as my computer is on the campus internet. (Plus hundreds of other journals that now have their entire archives online.) Occasionally something that is not available online I will have to find the hard copy of the journal in the stacks, or request and interlibrary loan and the library staff will get me the PDF within a few days. This may or may not be possible at a local library.

Good luck! Please don't hesitate to memail me if you need specific resources.
posted by sararah at 9:21 AM on November 22, 2009

First, I want to say that I think it is commendable that you are educating yourself like this. Don't pay for access to the results. You've already paid for most of this research as a taxpayer, and the a la carte prices are ludicrous.

If there is a medical school near you, visit their library and talk to a reference librarian, who can hopefully give you a few pointers on the whole endeavor: how to do your searches, how to access the results, and so on. A biology librarian will be able to help you do the same thing, even if it's not at a med school. Unfortunately, medical journal subscriptions are very expensive, so non-med school institutions are likely to have only the most prominent medical journals available.

If you are looking into a longstanding area of medical knowledge, starting with a textbook on that subject will probably be the most helpful. For more recent results, use PubMed to find the articles you are interested in. To find more on a particular subject, a useful strategy is to search for [mysubject review] to find review articles, which are summaries of the existing literature, often written by experts and with extensive bibliographies to help you find the original research. Sometimes there will be free full text linked from PubMed. If not, try searching for the title on the article on Google Scholar, which can sometimes help you find the full text elsewhere. Then check the corresponding author's web site—they often upload versions of their papers for free. You can find out who the corresponding author is by looking at the abstract of the article on the journal web site—you will almost always be able to see the abstract and metadata without paying. You can then try asking them to send you an article if they don't have it online.

Interlibrary loan is also another option.
posted by grouse at 9:22 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding, contact the author or co-author. Contact info is usually easy to find if it is not in the article itself. If you know the exact title of the article, enter it in Google Scholar and see if it comes up anywhere else.
posted by chillmost at 9:33 AM on November 22, 2009

Lots of good advice here. One additional suggestion, before you email the authors, try a little Googling to see if they have websites. A lot of authors will have copies of the articles linked from their websites, which will give you quicker access.
posted by Stacey at 9:39 AM on November 22, 2009

MeMail me the pubmed id's of the papers you need... I may or may not have access to literally every electronic journal for free through my school (shhh....).
posted by pwally at 9:50 AM on November 22, 2009

What you need is a medical library. Ask if they have a library at the institution where your child is being treated. Chances are they do, even if it's not widely advertised. The librarian there will be able to help you find articles and reviews that cover your child's illness. If that institution doesn't have a library, try another one nearby. If none of them do, MeMail me. I am a medical librarian, and helping people in your situation is part of the job.
posted by cosmicbandito at 9:57 AM on November 22, 2009

Send me a MeMail, I might be able to help.
posted by sperose at 10:00 AM on November 22, 2009

Don't forget that there are still physical copies of journals in academic libraries! Even if you can't access the online articles, you can get the citations using PubMed and go find the physical copies of the articles in a dusty part of the library students never visit, and make a photocopy of it. This is particularly the case for older articles, which might not be online or easily accessible even if the institution has a current subscription.
posted by ubersturm at 10:04 AM on November 22, 2009

Just wanted to add that you're kind of not supposed to pay for this stuff. The way the model works is that institutions (libraries, businesses) pay large fees for all kinds of subscriptions, which let their members access any article they happen to need. The per-article prices are outside the reach of almost anyone, especially given that when you're trying to find information you might have to sift through dozens or even hundreds of papers. (There is a trend towards open-access journals which might blow this whole model away in the next ten years or so.)
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:13 AM on November 22, 2009

Ditto, what emilyd22222 said, feel free to memail me.

You may not want to read dusty old articles as they will be outdated, which is especially important for medical articles.
posted by mareli at 11:52 AM on November 22, 2009

N.b. I wasn't suggesting that the poster preferentially read publications from the '50s, since older articles can obviously be outdated. Rather, I was suggesting that online journals can have arbitrary access issues - a bunch of journals published by Oxford Journals don't generally grant online access to archives for articles published before some year in the mid or late '90s, for example, and it's not unthinkable that a 10-year-old article might be useful, particularly for a fairly uncommon disease. Additionally, some academic libraries may allow the public into library but require some sort of university affiliate status (with password/certificates) for accessing e-journals. However, even though everyone preferentially uses online journals these days, many libraries still get physical copies of journals (or did until the past few years.) If the original poster has problems accessing the papers they're looking for online, I wanted to emphasize that libraries still have physical resources that the poster might be able use.
posted by ubersturm at 1:18 PM on November 22, 2009

If you're looking for reasonable number of articles, MeMail me.
posted by drpynchon at 1:47 PM on November 22, 2009

You could also memail me and I could check. Does the doctor or hospital you often deal with have a medical school? Our reference department in our biomed library often does research and prints articles for hospital patients and their families, and I'm assuming many other people do the same. Similarly, if you do research on GoogleScholar or Pubmed and want to know if libraries near you might have the journal so you could make a copy, Check Worldcat
posted by itsonreserve at 5:44 PM on November 22, 2009

Check with your alumni university's library. Access to the public for online journals probably requires ID/ password for use at public computers. But you can try to find out from your alumni association or directly calling the library if you can have this information.
posted by proficiency101 at 8:28 PM on November 22, 2009

follow-up from the OP
A million, sincere thanks to everyone for such wonderful advice. The past 6 days have been a blur of worry and frustration but using the guidance from my mefi friends has helped me so much. I have already found some of the journals I was seeking and have emails out to the authors of others, a solution that would have never occurred to me, especially in my current mind frame. To those who generously offered personal help, I may still take you up on it. This is a disorder that is not widely recognized in the US, especially in the ignorant part of the country where I live. Information is scarce. I anticipate needing more specialized info as we start pushing for proper therapy and treatments and I will memail without hesitation if I get stuck. Protecting myself from possible (probable) fights with our medical insurer is the only thing keeping me from contacting and thanking you all individually. I've been a member here for a while but the true, personal impact that thoughtful, knowledgeable responses can have, has never really hit me until today. Please go forward into this week of Thanksgiving knowing that you have helped to make a scary situation a little easier for my family by helping us to educate ourselves about this monster that has come into our lives. I'm very thankful for each of you and your willingness to share your knowledge.
posted by jessamyn at 9:31 PM on November 22, 2009

« Older Unblocking the emotional dam - slowly!   |   IKEA, O why did you discontinue the RIAN? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.