Review of PubMed Mobile and PubMed for Handhelds for iPhone, iPad, and Android

Like most clinicians, scientists, or other members of the healthcare team, you probably search PubMed regularly to find research articles to support your clinical decision-making and research. PubMed functions perfectly on computers and tablets, but there are plenty of scenarios where you may want to run a quick search on your smartphone.

A number of apps for searching PubMed are available and we’re going to look at some of the options for accessing PubMed on a small mobile device, starting with those available from the US National Library of Medicine, which creates and manages PubMed.

PubMed Mobile Site

If you go to PubMed on your phone, you’ll be redirected to PubMed Mobile, a PubMed interface that is formatted for smaller screens. You can type in search terms, just as you would in PubMed, and suggestions appear based on the searches of other users.

68631-1 PubMed Mobile Home

The results screen is pared down from the standard PubMed interface, though options to filter by free full text and review articles are available.

68631-2 Results

If you click on a title, you’ll see the citation information and abstract (if available). Related citations appear at the bottom of the screen. Even though I accessed this version of PubMed through my institution’s library website, the usual buttons to connect to full text do not appear. Instead, a simple full text link appears below the abstract and next to the publisher name. These links come directly from publishers, not your institution, and are therefore not a guarantee that the full text is available to you without cost.

68631-3 Related citations

Full text might be available if the article is open access or if it is available through your institution and you are connected to your campus network. Most publishers are not yet using responsive design for their e-journals, so reading the article on the small screen may prove difficult.

68631-4 ACS site

Navigation on PubMed Mobile is simple and you can move between results with Previous and Next buttons and use the back button to get back to your full list of results.

PubMed for Handhelds App
If you want to use filters other than just free full text and review articles, or if you want to construct more complex PubMed searches, you might want to try the PubMed® for Handhelds (PubMed4Hh) app. Also created by the National Library of Medicine, this app is available to both iOS and Android users.

In PubMed for Handhelds, there are multiple search options available and each does something slightly different.

68631-5 PubMed4Hh

PICO Search: This search option uses the PICO structure for well-built clinical questions. There are search boxes for Patient/Problem, Intervention, Comparison, and Outcome, as well as the option to limit the search to certain types of articles.

68631-6 PICO search

The results list consists of article titles and tapping on a title provides the abstract. Here things are a little different from the PubMed Mobile site. Notice the [TBL] in the abstract? That doesn’t stand for “team–based learning”, but rather “The Bottom Line.” These brief summaries are pulled from the abstract to make it easier to spot the article’s findings. Other options on the screen let you get to the publisher’s full text (again, not tied to your institution’s subscriptions) and related citations. Two additional options are available: Email and Save. These allow you to email the citation to yourself or another person and to save the citation (not the PDF) in the app’s Archive.

68631-7 PICO citation

askMEDLINE: The single search box for askMEDLINE allows for natural language searching, such as, “Is aspirin effective in preventing heart attacks?”. Again, you can limit the search to certain study types. Results are displayed in the same way as the PICO search with TBL summaries, and email/save options. The actual results themselves are different, however, as the algorithm behind the search incorporates natural language.

68631-8 askMEDLINE

Consensus Abstracts: This feature allows you to use either the PICO or askMEDLINE search. The only difference is in the results page, where you can select individual or the first predefined number of bottom-line summaries to view. This lets you compare multiple studies on one small screen.

68631-9 Consensus

Clinical Queries: In Clinical Queries, you can search with pre-defined filters – either systematic reviews, or by question type (therapy, diagnosis, etiology, prognosis, or clinical prediction rules). Clinical Queries add validated, complex search filters to your search terms behind the scenes, which help your results to be more focused to the category or type of question you are asking. You can choose to use the specific (narrower) or sensitive (broader) option for each category. Results are displayed the same way and with the same options as the PICO search.

68631-10 Clinical Queries

Journal Browser: Have a few minutes and want to scan the latest from your favorite journal? The Journal Browser does just that – scroll through a short list of popular journals or search for any journal indexed in PubMed to see all the articles from that journal. With PubMed’s “last in, first out” sorting, the most current articles will be at the top of the list. Results are displayed the same way and with the same options as the non-consensus search options in the app.

68631-11 Journals

Archive: The Archive holds citations/abstracts that you chose to save, typically in the same format as all other results in this app.

Evidence Behind the App

PubMed Mobile and PubMed for Handhelds both provide interfaces for accessing existing information from academic journals and do not present evidence outside the original articles themselves. The Bottom Line summaries in PubMed for Handhelds should be used with caution as they simply highlight a section of the abstracts. Journal abstracts often over-report positive findings at the expense of negative findings.

  • Price
    • Free
    • PubMed Mobile offers a link to the standard version of PubMed, if you simply must have all of PubMed’s features on your small screen.
    • PubMed for Handhelds offers high-value filters for study type, which quickly focuses results to those articles that are clinically-relevant.
    • In both the mobile site and app, you are searching all of PubMed and results closely match what you would get in a standard PubMed search, i.e. most searches (except the natural language search in askMEDLINE) use the standard PubMed mapping to official subject headings.
  • Dislikes
    • You cannot  link your institution’s full-text holdings to the results display.
    • Both the mobile site and app are mostly designed for reading abstracts. While this makes sense on a small screen, abstracts can be limited and may not be the best source for clinical decision-making.
    • The reset button is just as big as the search button, and you might find yourself clearing your search screen by accident.
  • Overall

    Download the free app and play with the different search options. The PICO search, natural language, and Clinical Queries provide excellent ways to find clinically relevant citations quickly. The additional filter options and TBL summaries further enhance the value of this app on your device.

  • Overall Score
  • User Interface

    The interface lacks polish, but includes sophisticated search features.

  • Multimedia Usage
    • N/A
  • Price

    The site and app are free. Note: Full text is usually provided for a cost to your institution.

  • Real World Applicability

    Most clinicians would benefit from having PubMed for Handhelds in their pocket for quick access to the research literature.

  • Available for DownloadAndroidiPhoneiPad