Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “general health”

Images from the History of Medicine (National Library of Medicine)

Images from the History of Medicine – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/ihm/

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What did quarantine signs look like in the 20th Century?
  • Where can I find examples of AIDS posters?
  • How did the US Armed forces encourage soldiers to use their mosquito nets during World War II?
  • Where can I find health posters in Chinese?


From the website:

Images from the History of Medicine (IHM) provides access to over 70,000 images in the collections of the History of Medicine Division (HMD) of the U.S National Library of Medicine (NLM).

The collection includes portraits, photographs, caricatures, genre scenes, posters, and graphic art illustrating the social and historical aspects of medicine dated from the 15th to 21st century.

The records from the Images from the History of Medicine database are also searchable in LocatorPlus.

This database assists users in finding and viewing visual material for private study, scholarship, and research. This site contains some materials that may be protected by United States or foreign copyright laws. It is the users’ responsibility to determine compliance with the law when reproducing, transmitting, or distributing images found in IHM. Please note that some content in this database may contain material that some viewers may find to be challenging, disturbing or offensive. Viewer discretion is advised.

Strangely, it does not appear to be possible to do a straightforward date search in this resource. Using the faceted browsing on the left hand of the screen may help in your search. This database can be browsed as a single collection, by category, subject or geography. It may also be searched by the following fields:

  • Appears In
  • Call Number
  • Cited in
  • Contributor
  • Contributor (Conference)
  • Contributor (Organization)
  • Copyright Statement
  • Creator
  • Creator (Conference)
  • Creator (Organization)
  • Language
  • Manufacturer Information
  • Physical Description
  • Publication Country
  • Publication Information
  • Publisher Information
  • Series
  • Series Statement
  • Series Title
  • Subject (Conference)
  • Subject (Genre)
  • Subject (Geographic Name)
  • Subject (Keyword)
  • Subject (MeSH Term)
  • Subject (Organization)
  • Subject (Person)
  • Subject (Title)
  • Title
  • Title (Alternative)
  • URL

There is a very small subset of images from this library in Flickr Commons.

MedlinePlus Medical Tutorials

MedlinePlus Medical Tutorials – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/tutorial.html
Resource currently not available…will research alternatives.  8/31/17

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What happens during a barium enema?
  • What is Knee Arthroscopy?
  • What is the Ponseti Method of clubfoot treatment?


A group of interactive flash tutorials. Each tutorial contains animated graphics, audio and text.

The tutorials are divided into the categories of Diseases and Conditions, Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, Surgery and Treatment Procedures, and Prevention and Wellness. Many of the tutorials will be useful to people writing about specific conditions. Here are a few representative tutorials:

If you don’t have Flash, each tutorial also has a text summary covering the main points of the tutorial. These tutorials will likely be very helpful in describing disease symptoms and treatment procedures.

Understanding Medical Words

Understanding Medical Words – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/medicalwords.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • If a word begins with oste, what does it pertain to?
  • Cholecyst in a word pertains to what?
  • What does iatry at the end of a word signify?


From the website, “This tutorial teaches you about medical words. You’ll learn about how to put together parts of medical words. You’ll also find quizzes to see what you’ve learned. ”

The tutorial is in Flash and I like it because it teaches you parts of words so that you’ll have a chance of understanding words you haven’t seen yet. If you prefer a “I just want to look up a word” approach, try the dictionary at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/mplusdictionary.html. The dictionary also provides pronunciation of the words it defines.
In addition to helping break down medical types, this tutorial may help you invent new medical sounding words for your story.

Public Health Image Library

Public Health Image Library (PHIL)  – http://phil.cdc.gov

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What do ebola infected liver cells look like?
  • What damage can herpes do?
  • What does gangrene look like?


Sometimes you really need to see something before you can properly describe it in a story. This site from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is here to help with that. This library contains photos, illustrations and videos.

The initial search is keyword only with the option to include photos, illustrations and/or videos.

Clicking on the “Search (Quick/Advanced)” option in the left-hand column, then “advanced search” gives you many more options, including:

  • Date Restrictions
  • Image type (Public domain, copyright restricted, color, black & white, photos, illustrations, video)
  • Category Search (CDC Organizations, and MeSH (Medical Subject Headings))

Some of the materials in the library relate to activities rather than diseases or body parts. An interesting thing to do is to go to the advanced search and see what is available under “persons” under the MeSH headings. Some of the types of people include Caregivers, disabled persons, homeless persons, occupational groups, patients, prisoners, refugees, students, and voluntary workers. Sometimes you’ll see a whole person, sometimes just a closeup of a body part.

Once you do any kind of a search, you get a set of thumbnail photos with id numbers. To really see what you’re looking at, you’ll need to click on the thumbnail. This will bring you to a screen with a larger photo and the following fields:

  • Description – Can be up to several paragraphs
  • High Resolution – Link to hi-res image, if available
  • Content Provider(s)
  • Creation Date
  • Photo Credit, if available
  • Links – links to related resources including publications talking about the subject of the photo.
  • Categories – Tree view of CDC organization and related MeSH headings. All MeSH listings are hotlinked and show where they relate in the MeSH heirarchy.
  • Copyright Restrictions – Used to show whether something is in the public domain or restricted by copyright.

Searches don’t always work as the average user expects. When searching for photos of lung disease, you might find historic pictures of ceramics workers and coal miners. Have some patience and enjoy the serendipity.
After 20 minutes of inactivity, PHIL will throw you out and you’ll need to click on home to start over.

This is one few federal government websites that has the following movie trailer like disclaimer – “WARNING:  This library includes subject matter that might be unsuitable for children. Viewing discretion is advised.” I can personally vouch for that. My search for skin cancer brought up eight photos, two which were penises with skin cancer.

First Aid (MedlinePlus)

First Aid – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/firstaid.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • How do I create a sling?
  • What’s the right way to treat a burn?
  • What are some signs of heat exhaustion?


Overview of common first aid needs. The pictures and photographs section have slideshows of creating a sling and hand splint. This page links to first aid treatments for a number of conditions including burns, cuts, frostbite, nosebleeds and unconsciousness.

This page also links to a Red Cross page on ten common first aid mistakes. These could be a good source for dialog or tragic yet preventable complications.

MedlinePlus Health Topics

MedlinePlus Health Topics – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/healthtopics.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What are some symptoms of bladder cancer?
  • What happens during an acupuncture session?
  • What challenges might someone with ADHD face in enlisting in the US military?


In the beginning there was Medline, a medical indexing and abstracting service from the National Library of Medicine. It was aimed at doctors, but once it went on the Internet, patients and other laymen got hold of it and tried to make sense of the very technical medical articles. Sometimes they succeeded, more often they did not.

Enter MedlinePlus, a patient/layman oriented resource that starts with plain English resources and links out to other resources, some general and some technical. I and many of my librarian colleagues agree that MedlinePlus ought to be your first stop for medical information on the Internet. It’s authoritative information with no hidden sales agenda.

MedlinePlus has a number of different sections, each worthy of its own entry. This entry concerns their Health Topics page, where according to the website, “Read about symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention for over 900 diseases, illnesses, health conditions and wellness issues. MedlinePlus health topics are regularly reviewed, and links are updated daily.”

The page gives you a number of ways to browse health topics: Alphabetically, Body Location/System, Disorders and Conditions, Diagnosis and Therapy, Demographic Groups and, Health and Wellness.

All of the topic pages lead to a list of more specific topics, in the case of the Body Location/System pages, there will be an illustration of the Body Location/System you have chosen.

For a given disease topic, such as Gout, you’ll find a page with the following sections:

  • Condition summary (in a blue box) – Will also provide opportunity to get e-mail updates to this topic page and may offer one or two starting points.
  • Links to related articles in the MedlinePlus Medical Encylopedia
  • Related MedlinePlus topics
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) unit with primary research responsibility
  • Alternative languages, when available. The Gout page is also available in Arabic and Spanish.
  • Basics (Overviews, Diagnosis/Symptoms, Treatment)
  • Learn More (Nutrition, Related Issues)
  • Multimedia & Cool Tools (Pictures, Tutorials, Video)
  • Research (Clinical trials, Genetics, Journal Articles)
  • Reference Shelf (Dictionaries [maybe this is directories?], Organizations, Statistics)
  • For You (Demographic group, Patient Handouts)

Nondisease health topics will look pretty similar except the subheadings under Basics, Learn More, Multimedia & Cool Tools, Research, Reference Shelf and For You might look a little different.

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