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