MedlinePlus Mobile Review and Social Medicine

MedlinePlus has updated the look and feel to their website and I have decided to try and test out their mobile version. My earlier worry that the mobile site link was at the bottom of the page is frustratingly accurate. NLM does not have any way to recognize that you are using a mobile device so you are automatically directed to the full Internet site where you have to scroll to and enlarge to click on the tiny link to the mobile site at the bottom of the page.
Mobile web devices are not new, more and more people are using their phones to access the web. As Susanna Fox mentions in her post, Mobile, Social Health at the National Library of Medicine, “84% of 18-29 year olds no go online wirelessly. and 20% of wireless Internet users go online exclusively on a cell phone.” That is a big chunk of people and my unofficial guess is those numbers aren’t shrinking.
So for any people designing web pages that might be used on mobile browsers, please put the mobile link at the top of the of the full page AND put the link for the full Internet site at the top of the mobile page.  Both of these links are extremely important to mobile web users and SHOULD NOT be at the bottom of the page.

I looked at the mobile site while also looking at the full website on my computer.  The reason I did this was I wanted to see what was on the mobile site and what wasn’t.  Due to screen space, scrolling, and other things, a mobile site should never be an exact duplicate of the full site.  Some things do better on the mobile and some things do better on the full site (hence the reason we need the links to switch back and forth between the two sometimes). 

Overall the mobile site is a nice scaled down version of the full site.  The mobile site does a great job in providing access to the top three things that I believe a mobile user would need/want from MedlinePlus, Search Box, Health Topics and Drugs.  Topics are displayed nicely in the mobile form and images are downsized as thumbnails.  Clicking on images the gives a bigger (but not too big for the screen) image. 

The one downer is that none of videos or interactive tutorials on MedlinePlus are available on the mobile platform.  Why?  Because they are in Flash.  Flash does not work on mobile phones and will never (if Steve Jobs has his way) be on the iPhone which is one of the most popular devices.  I think the videos are extremely helpful to people who want to know more about their disease, surgery, or anatomy.  It is too bad they don’t have them prominently on YouTube. 

So why is the mobile web thing so important anyway for a clearly established public health medical site like NLM anyway?  Well what do you think people do in the waiting room, in the doctor’s office or in the ER when they are waiting to see the doctor?  They aren’t reading last year’s issue of Field and Stream.  If they have a phone that they can surf the Internet they are surfing the Internet looking up information.  Example:  A few months ago we were in the ER with one of my sons for an injury that was serious enough for the ER but not life or death.  The ER is busy, it is a lot of hurry up and wait.  You see the doctor and they answer your questions at the time, then they leave to take care of other patients.  Often it is during these long times between the doctor or nurse poking their head in that you begin to think of other questions and want to know more about what the doctor said.  So, I whipped out my iPhone and started surfing looking for information. 

As EagleDawg and Susanna both mentioned, NLM is starting to get more than just their toes into social media,  (I think they now have maybe one foot in the water) but they still have a long way to go with a lot of opportunities.  Social media is one way to reach out to people interested in public health information.  Many people have reported how poor iTunes and other sites are at organizing medical podcasts and apps.  Amazon.com is just as bad at organizing medical texts for the Kindel.  There are very few authorative entities taking an active role in collecting, organizing, promoting, and vetting medical and public health in social media.  Perhaps it is because I am a librarian but this seems like an area that is right up the alley of something like the NIH and the National Library of Medicine.  Not only organizing and vetting said information but also releasing and spreading medical information.  Fox says in her post about NLM,

“Two-thirds of those who look online for health information usually talk about it with someone else. The Pew Internet Project will focus on research questions about the who, what, where & when of  those health conversations in an upcoming survey. But the questions are pertinent to the NLM’s mission, too: What are people saying? Is the NLM helping to seed the conversation? How are you (NLM) contributing to the spread of facts, the spread of science, the spread of evidence?”

“Behavior – both good and bad – can be catching. How can the NLM seed conversations happening online and offline, to spread good information and good behaviors?”

The mobile web is just one part of social medicine.  NLM has done a fairly good job with MedlinePlus mobile, but that is just one small piece of the larger pie.

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