Learn about a free service that links trusted health information from the NIH to EHR and other health IT systems.
MedlinePlus Connect is a free service of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), one of the Institutes at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Jennifer Jentsch, MLS, is the project manager for MedlinePlus Connect at the NLM. Here, she discusses how MedlinePlus Connect links electronic health record (EHR) systems, patient portals, and other health information technology (IT) systems to relevant health information from NIH sources, including NIDDK diabetes information.
Q: What is MedlinePlus Connect? What does NLM hope to accomplish with this service?
A: MedlinePlus Connect is a free service that maps more than 170,000 diagnostic, drug, and lab test codes to relevant health information—sometimes called patient education—available on MedlinePlus, Genetics Home Reference, and the websites of other NIH Institutes, such as the NIDDK and National Institute on Aging. MedlinePlus Connect can deliver health information in English and in Spanish that is written for the general public—patients and their friends and families.
MedlinePlus Connect seeks to meet the needs of health care professionals and patients alike. Health care professionals want to point their patients to trusted, accurate, and appropriate information. For patients, knowing more about their conditions and treatment options may help them make better decisions about their health. Access to health information from MedlinePlus Connect within a health IT system can aid in the communication between health care professionals and patients.
Ultimately, NLM’s goal is to bring health information from the NIH directly into EHR or other health IT systems where health care professionals and patients need it. For decades, this information has been available to the public via the NLM and NIH websites. MedlinePlus Connect brings this information to another important audience: users of EHRs.
Q: How can health care professionals use MedlinePlus Connect in their day-to-day work?
A: Health care professionals who use an EHR system with MedlinePlus Connect can easily access health information—the materials are one click away. For example, during an office visit with a patient, a health care professional can access, print, and share relevant health information with the patient through links in the patient’s EHR.
The MedlinePlus Connect links remain in the patient’s EHR, so patients can find the relevant NIH information again, if needed, by clicking on the name of a disease, medicine, or lab test, or by clicking on an Infobutton icon—the letter “i” inside a circle.
Q: What are some example scenarios of how a health care professional might use MedlinePlus Connect content when working with a patient with diabetes?
A: If a patient is newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, that diagnosis is recorded in their EHR with a code, such as an ICD-10-CM or SNOMED CT® code. Through MedlinePlus Connect, the code will link the EHR to general information about type 2 diabetes from the NIDDK. From there, the health care professional or patient can click through to the NIDDK website to read much more about type 2 diabetes, including information about symptoms, management, living with the disease, and related clinical trials.
Similarly, a diagnosis code for prediabetes will link the EHR to NIDDK information about insulin resistance and prediabetes. The health care professional or patient will be able to view more NIDDK information about the condition and steps they can take to prevent type 2 diabetes.
Q: What content is available from the NIDDK? Are there certain diagnostic codes that health care professionals in the diabetes field are most likely to use?
A: MedlinePlus Connect leverages the medical codes that are already used in EHRs to point to relevant resources, and there are specific codes representing the diagnosis of diabetes, medications prescribed, and lab tests ordered.
In 2019, the NIDDK added hundreds of links to NIDDK resources to MedlinePlus Connect, and those resources can be retrieved with more than 1,000 medical codes.
Q: How can health care professionals implement MedlinePlus Connect in their practices?
A: Many popular EHR systems use MedlinePlus Connect—it may be included in the EHR system right out of the box, or you may need to request to have it added. The system is very easy to implement. You only have to set it up one time, and you don't have to do anything on an ongoing basis.
Health care professionals can consult with a technical representative in their organization or a staff member who works with the EHR system to implement MedlinePlus Connect. In larger organizations that have a contract with an EHR vendor, health care professionals may need to ask the vendor to implement MedlinePlus Connect.
Anyone setting up MedlinePlus Connect can use the technical information provided by the NLM. You don't have to inform the NLM before you implement MedlinePlus Connect; you can just go ahead and get started. If you have questions while setting up MedlinePlus Connect or once it’s up and running, you can contact the NLM for help by clicking the “Customer Support” link in the upper right corner of any MedlinePlus web page. We also encourage new MedlinePlus Connect users to sign up for a listserv, which we use to send out important updates about the service.
Q: Is there anything else health care professionals need to know about MedlinePlus Connect?
A: MedlinePlus Connect is unique among health information resources for EHRs in that it is free and doesn't require any licensing or registration. Health care professionals or organizations must pay for similar services. The truly unique value of MedlinePlus Connect is that it links to vetted health information from the NLM and elsewhere at the NIH.
How do you connect patients to trusted health information resources? Tell us below in the comments.