A probable replacement to MDConsult, introducing ClinicalKey

Within the last few months representatives from Elsevier have been contacting MDConsult subscribers about their new product ClinicalKey.

ClinicalKey has many more information resources than MDConsult and will probably one day replace it.

After speaking with one rep it is fairly clear that development and investment will be going to Clinical Key.

While there is no sunset date for MDConsult, they will not carry both products forever. So what is ClinicalKey and what sets it apart from MDConsult?

Think of ClinicalKey as an information portal to almost all medical items published by Elsevier.

ClinicalKey has 900+ books, 500+ journals, images, procedures and guidelines. While ClinicalKey includes many more books and journals, it also wraps in videos from another Elsevier product — Procedures Consult — and more than doubles the amount of videos, images, and practice guidelines available within MDConsult.

Clinical Key front search page

Amount of content within Clinical Key

Searching ClinicalKey:

Access to a lot of information is only as good as the search interface and ClinicalKey’s interface is not only simple to use but robust enough on the backend to provide users with relevant results. Users will notice a drop down box suggesting similar terms and other areas of interest.

Search results are displayed in the main frame. The blue squares with letters indicates where the results came from on the ClinicalKey platform. The letters FC indicate the retrieved result is from FirstConsult, and B is from Elsevier’s books.

The frame on the left is key to the type of content available on a topic but also indicates the amount available as well. Using the search example gout, I am able to see that in addition to the thousands of journal and book results on gout, there are 24 guidelines, 1 video, and 909 images.

One area for confusion is difference between content from J (Journals) and content from M (Medline). It is important to know results within J are just results from Elsevier journals. Results from M are results found in Medline from Elsevier and other publisher journals.

Personally I am not sure why Elsevier journal content is even listed separately from Medline content. If users want to search for a specific Elsevier title they can only do so by clicking the word Journals at the top of the screen on the blue bar. It appears Elsevier has beefed up the searching algorithms in ClinicalKey compared to MDConsult. Elsevier uses their own medical terminology and taxonomy to help drive the search engine to bring more relevant results.

A quick search on gout in both MDConsult and ClinicalKey illustrates the differences in retrieved results. Notice the first result on MDConsult is in Chinese.

One area of possible concern is citation searching. Many people will be using ClinicalKey for two primary information reasons.

The first is finding clinical information quickly, in which case you type your term(s) in the search box at the top of the pages. The second reason is to find a specific Elsevier journal or book. Since ClinicalKey contains almost every Elsevier medical journal and book, it will most likely become the primary resource for hospital and academic medical institutions to access the full text of Elsevier books.

Therefore, if you are looking for a specific article in The Lancet, you have to drill down to the article by first selecting the journal and then the year/volume to find it in the table of contents. In MDConsult you could simply plug the information into their citation search boxes.

Other features:

Elsevier has implemented full text access to all of the “special” content in their books within ClinicalKey. In the past many Elsevier books came with chapters available only to StudentConsult.com or ExpertConsult.com subscribers. Those books are now available in their entirety within ClinicalKey and do not require an additional subscription to another Elsevier database to view the “special” content.

Images and videos within ClinicalKey are now easier to use. Images and videos are listed within the search results and you can easily drag and drop them to the presentation button located on the right side of the screen. ClinicalKey’s Presentation Maker allows you to organize your image and turn your saved images and videos to Powerpoint presentation by clicking on the Export to Powerpoint button.

A brief YouTube tutorial video from Elsevier shows how easy Presentation Maker is.

Mobile Access:

Currently ClinicalKey is not available as an app, but it is optimized for use on iPads. According to an Elsevier rep, they are not certain whether they will make a native app. Certain products like FirstConsult are available as a free app to current subscribers; however, since it is now included in the ClinicalKey subscription it is unclear as to when or if FirstConsult will continue to be available as a stand alone app.


  • Little is mentioned on their website. Individuals can subscribe to ClinicalKey but they don’t mention a price on their site–though they are willing to contact you. Institutions must contact their Elsevier rep for costs specific to their site. Pricing for hospitals is based on bed size, the larger the hospital the larger the price.
  • Since ClinicalKey contains so much more information than MDConsult, expect the cost of ClincalKey to be more expensive than MDConsult. Smaller institutions who may not be able to afford ClinicalKey as a whole may want to consider subscribing to a subject subset of ClinicalKey which Elsevier reps have said might be available.


  • Content – I really like the content within Clinical Key. If you can afford ClinicalKey, you automatically have full text access to almost all Elsevier medical content. Elsevier is one of the largest publishers of medical texts and journals and having ClinicalKey allows you to access a majority of those items.
  • Search Engine – Elsevier has made vast improvements to their search engine compared to MDConsult, which was critical considering they added almost 4 million more items to the database.
  • Full text linking – Not only are all of the Elsevier titles available in full text, institutions with OpenURL resolvers can include full text access to non-Elsevier titles within Clinical Key. (This feature was not available during my trial version but an Elsevier rep indicated this can be done.)


  • Citation Searching – When you know the title and author of an article, MDConsult’s journal search is superior to ClinicalKey. There is no easy way to look for a specific article within ClinicalKey.
  • Price – All of that content is not cheap. Most current subscribers to MDConsult are going to see a fairly large increase in price moving to ClinicalKey.


  • Depending on your pocket book and your need, ClinicalKey is a great product providing easy access to a lot of medical content.
  • However, it may be a bit of overkill for smaller institutions or doctors who specialize in specific areas of medicine and have been getting by just fine with MDConsult. It is a bit like taking a sip of water out of a fire hydrant.
  • ClinicalKey is still very new, only a few months old. It will be very interesting to see how it evolves for mobile devices.

Clinical Key Website


Michelle Kraft

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15 Responses to A probable replacement to MDConsult, introducing ClinicalKey

  1. Diane Bartoli August 20, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    Thank you so much for the thorough and thoughtful review of ClinicalKey. I’m glad you were pleased with the search functionality as this is something we’ve spent a lot of time on. I also appreciate that you’ve acknowledged that this is a new product, and one that will continue to evolve. We are working very closely with customers and users to improve the product. We’ve heard similar feedback on the Journals and Medline designations, as well as on the citation searching. Both are being looked at closely to determine better solutions. Thanks again, and I would encourage other librarians and physician-users to share their feedback with the ClinicalKey team at: clinicalkey [AT] elsevier.com.

    Kind regards,
    Diane Bartoli
    Vice President, Global Product Development
    Global Clinical Reference, Elsevier Health Sciences

  2. Patricia Carroll-Mathes August 28, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    On behalf of a number of smaller institutions- non teaching hospitals, small to medium hospitals, I want to go on record with my concerns re whether this NEW product will in fact, replace the already pricy MDConsult and make it impossible for many to have anything from Elsevier. Unless Elsevier is FAR MORE responsive to the budget restraints and flexible in its pricing models, none of my current hospitals will be able to subscribe. Currently 5 of 15 do…. I forsee a situation where only one or even none, will be able to do so when MDConsult goes. Will the world of medical information become just another area where a few have a vast number of resources and the rest have very little?
    Concerned librarian

    • Dan Hayes, MD March 6, 2013 at 8:51 pm #


      Thanks for speaking out. Looks like Elsevier has essentially accomplished its goal of getting control of most all of the pubs that we individual medical writers and other individuals depend on. I’ve seen this coming for years. I can’t afford Ovid–and now can’t afford MD Consult. Such corporate greed. Such greed among us. (I’m referring to those of us with probably almost any type of investments. Soccer moms: fill those SUV tanks.

      So for the time being I’ll be having to drive to the local medical school library for much of my content.

  3. Phillip Kenny August 29, 2012 at 7:32 am #

    I tend to share the opinion of Patricia in this regard. Being the head of a clinical department in a busy regional hospital in a rural province in South Africa, training of juniors is of paramount importance. Unless available freely on the internet, we have to access learning materials, journals and books out of our own pocket, as the hospital cannot afford institutional access. Each discipline accesses that which is relevant to their field. Despite the very impressive content of ClinicalKey, would it not be better to have packages associated with disciplines, at reasonable prices and possibly at discounts for individuals, especially in countries or regions that have less financial resources? Just wondering.

  4. NancyC September 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    If anyone is going to attempt to use Clinical Key for your medical school curriculum, be aware that the lack of PDFs for all the 129 books in the Medical Education collection (exactly the titles they want to use) will pretty much drive their faculty and students crazy.
    Also, books do not have indexes — you can do one search within a specific book but if you want to search further, you will find yourself back out in the main search box, searching across all content.

  5. Lael Luedtke January 16, 2013 at 8:48 am #

    Some brief comments on Clinicalkey:
    Very expensive: for the extended orthopedic package, as an individual, the price is really high ($1200) PER YEAR.
    Use on iPad: the navigation is awkward and not intuitive. In a chapter, scrolling down happens when you drag horizontally and horizontal is accomplished by dragging down. What? Then in other sections the reverse is used. They really need a specific iPad app, so-called iPad optimization is a myth.
    Comprehensive: very thorough selection of sources but frustrating on a mobile platform.

  6. Mozart Netto January 22, 2013 at 9:34 am #

    They’re crazy! An MdConsult subscription was around $400,00. With this new product I have to pay more than $1000,00 just for the surgical content!

  7. George Magalhães March 12, 2013 at 11:06 pm #

    Since 1999 I have a MDconsult subscription may be I was one
    of first brazilian to made the subscription, I am a internal
    medicine physician, I do not need more than MDconsult, I do not
    know about price of this new site, but it seams confuse, and the
    search of one article is not easy, fortunately in Brazil we have
    capes portal with more than 3000 medical magazine and it is free
    for instituiton. I m going to wait, I saw one small mensage that it
    will not possible to renew my annual subscription, I do not
    consider a polite way way to communicate changes.

  8. K. Bohanon, M.D. June 15, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

    Totally priced out individual physicians. I did quite nicely with MD Consult. Decent variety of books & Journals, access to all the Clinics of N. A. Now, with the packages, it is impossible to get access to the same content without purchasing multiple packages. As a neonatologist, I would have to purchase the Neonatal/Perinatal package and the Pediatrics package, maybe the OB-Gyn package to get access to a decent Fetal/Maternal medicine book and access to “Drugs in Pregnancy and Lactation, ” plus maybe a couple other packages because several of Pediatric references are only available in other sub specialty packages. Need the Infectious Disease Pkg and the Gastroenterology Package to Pediatric references. Horribly expensive. And what is a Family Practitioner supposed to do? I was massively disappointed when I went to log on to MD Consult only to learn (without warning) that it was not renewed.

  9. M Griffin, MD June 18, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

    I totally agree with all practitioners above. I hadn’t used MD consult in a while – the last time when we got it for free through Merck Medicus. In this day of waning payments to doctors and hospitals I don’t know where the company thinks they will be getting their customers. I just went to the website to try to purchase a subscription and couldn’t find MD consult, even though they have continued to send me enticing emails as recently as this week. When I called, I was redirected to Clinical Key for an individual subscription, where, I found out that I would have to purchase several modules to meet my needs. I am a subspecialist in private practice and my hospital doesn’t have an institutional subscription. I would have been willing to purchase a subscription for $400 or $500 but not this for a limited data base – not in any economy – but especially not in this one. You have got to be kidding!

  10. Bruce Chen, MD July 10, 2013 at 11:12 pm #

    I’ve used MDConsult for years. Today, my subscription was inactive and there is no way to renew. The 1-800 telephone number which is listed on the website states that there is 24/7 telephone assistance, but it answers that it is only available during EST business hours. I subscribed to Cliincal Key, but it doesn’t have the same content on drugs as MDConsult. Particularly, the images and list of dosages of pills is gone. Clinical Key may not be better than MDConsult, but it is certainly much more expensive.

    • George Magalhães July 21, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

      I used MDC for 11 years, as I am internist physician working in two schools hospitals and discuss with residents between 20-30 new patients everyday, patients of great complexity, also I see in my private doctor’s office around 5-7 new patients per day, MDconsult had the tool of all Clinics of North America that really helps my specialty and about news , I finished making the signing of uptodate, because price I would have to pay for 5-6 specialties that use with great frequency would be more expensive than 10 times that paid previously, that policy of MDC was non sense.

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