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The NLM-Hosted Go Local System: An Opportunity for Medical Libraries

By Naomi Miller, Manager, Consumer Health Information
Public Services Division, National Library of Medicine


The National Library of Medicine's MedlinePlus is a high-quality gateway to consumer health information from NLM, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other government, professional and voluntary organizations creating authoritative health information. The core of MedlinePlus is over 700 Health Topic pages: highly selective collections of links to Web documents. Health topic pages organize the documents into categories such as overviews, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.1 Licensed content supplements the health topic pages in areas where authoritative Web content is not available. MedlinePlus licenses drug information, a medical encyclopedia, health news, a medical dictionary, and interactive health tutorials. Special features include webcasts of surgical procedures, collections of health check tools, and subject lists of easy-to-read materials. MedlinePlus is the most heavily used government-sponsored consumer health portal. In October 2005, over 8.6 million unique visitors viewed nearly 67 million pages.

What MedlinePlus does not include is information on local health services. Early in the development of MedlinePlus, NLM staff recognized that local organizations would be the best source of information about services in their states or regions. MedlinePlus concentrates on linking to information about diseases, conditions and wellness issues from national sources. Providing the information on facilities, health care professionals, programs and services, is the goal of MedlinePlus Go Local. The ultimate goal is to integrate the two complementary services. MedlinePlus provides the health information and link users to Go Local sites for information about services. Go Local sites would provide the links to local community services and connect residents to MedlinePlus for health information.

In the beginning: locally hosted Go Local sites

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill created the pilot Go Local site, NC Health Info. The site was several years in the making. A feasibility study in 2000/01 preceded the development of a web-based input system, vocabulary for services, mappings between the services and MedlinePlus health topics, and resource collection. NC Health Info debuted in February 2003.2 In 2004, the University of Missouri became the second Go Local site with Missouri’s Community Connection. Community Connection linked the health portions of an already existing database. Their effort involved re-indexing of records as well as mapping their service vocabulary to MedlinePlus topics. Each of these sites built their own database systems, and each continues to maintain their own local hardware and software.

Based on the experience of these two sites, it is clear that building a locally hosted system requires considerable effort. To assist those areas that do not have the resources or expertise to undertake a Go Local site, NLM developed a system hosted by NLM. The NLM system provides the hardware, vocabulary mapping, user interface, and technical infrastructure, leaving local areas free to concentrate on collecting and indexing local service information. Table 1 outlines Go Local responsibilities using the NLM or locally hosted model.

Table 1. Go Local Responsibilities
  NLM-hosted Locally hosted
Web servers, content management system NLM Local
Services vocabulary management NLM Local
Map MedlinePlus to/from local vocabulary NLM Local
Geography, mapping, zip code lookup NLM Local
Reports and statistics NLM Local
Web accessibility, usability NLM Local
Search software NLM Local
Project manager Local Local
Collect, index. maintain local services information Local Local
Outreach and promotion Local Local
Customer service Local Local
Quarterly reports to NLM, RML Local Local

As this table clearly illustrates, using the NLM system has advantages for organizations that cannot or do not wish to expend much technical effort in developing a Go Local site.

A Tour of the NLM-hosted system

The NLM-hosted Go Local input system is a web-based database application written in Flash. The input system lives on a server at NLM. The system allows local areas to modify templates to customize their area’s header, footer links, and colors, upload images, create the "About Us" page, provide contact information, and create a featured site for the homepage. It also includes a local map module to customize a local area map, which NLM supplies. These features allow local areas to “brand” their sites. Figures 1 shows some of the logos of NLM-hosted Go Local participants.

Figure 1. Go Local Headers and Logos
Figure 1. Go Local Headers and Logos

The heart of the system is the site record module. Using a web-based form, selectors create records for local services. The records include information such as the site name, address, city, state and zip. Optional information may include a web site URL, telephone number, and description of the resource. Figure 2 shows a typical record.

Figure 2. Sample site record
Figure 2. Sample site record

The second part of the form allows the selector to choose the geographic area that the resource serves. Options include zip code, individual counties, or the entire go local area. The selector chooses whether a resource should display to the public in a third section.

The fourth section allows the selector to choose services and health topic lists under which the resource will display. Adding topic information is the most complex step in creating a record. NLM provides vocabulary mappings to help selectors associate service terms (healthcare providers, health facilities, and health programs and services) and health topics (diseases, conditions, wellness issues.) Figure 3 displays topic information from the same record as Figure 2 above.

Figure 3. Service terms for a record with associated health topics for the service term
Figure 3. Service terms for a record with associated health topics for the service term "Adult Day Care Services"

A preview module allows local participants to view their pages. This feature allows each area to see how records will appear to the public and to gauge its readiness for public release. Using the resource above, here are the steps to preview this record.

Step 1: Choose Internal Preview, Services by Providers, Facilities and Services.
A preview menu option allows users to drill down through their Go Local records in the same way that a consumer would on the public site. In Figure 4, the selector has chosen to preview services by providers, facilities and services.

Figure 4. Choosing the Preview option
Figure 4. Choosing the Preview option

Step 2: Choose the specific service
The preview shows a list of the terms for health care providers, facilities and services. The selector chooses Adult Day Care Services.

Figure 5: Choosing the service term to preview
Figure 5: Choosing the service term to preview

Step 3: Choose within 10 miles of zip code 46202
In Figure 6, the selector types in the zip code to display. Other options are to select from the map or a list of counties and cities.

Figure 6. Drilling down geographically
Figure 6. Drilling down geographically

Step 4: View page
The preview displays the page of Adult Day Care Services in the specified geographic area. The record for the Lockefield Village Health and Rehabilitation Center is on the page.

Figure 7. Information for Lockefield Village on Adult Day Care Services page
Figure 7. Information for Lockefield Village on Adult Day Care Services page

When a Go Local site determines that its service records have reached a critical mass to be truly useful to the public, it tests its site using scenarios developed by NLM. NLM also tests the site, as may the appropriate Regional Medical Library. Testing is an iterative process. When all parties are satisfied with the site, NLM makes the site available to the public, and, typically, the sponsor holds a launch event and creates press releases.

Participating in Go Local

Libraries and other groups interested in creating and maintaining a “Go Local” site for their state or region can submit a proposal. Go Local Participation Guidelines are available on the MedlinePlus web site (
To help organizations with start-up costs for Go Local projects, NLM is providing one-time funding of up to $25,000 per project through the National Network of Libraries of Medicine.

Seventeen areas currently use the NLM-hosted Go Local system. Four of these areas are currently available to the public: Alabama, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Tribal Four Corners. Using the NLM system leaves local areas free to concentrate on collecting and indexing local service information. NLM encourages librarians to take advantage of this opportunity to provide service information to their local communities.


1. Miller N, Tyler RJ, Backus JEB. MedlinePlus: The National Library of Medicine brings quality information to health consumers. Library Trends. 2004 Fall;53(2):375-88.
2. Hilligoss B, Silbajoris C. MedlinePlus goes local in NC: the development and implementation of NC Health Info. Journal of Consumer Health on the Internet 2004;8(4): 9-26.

This publication is funded in whole with Federal funds from the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, under Contract No. N01-LM-1-3516.

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