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January 21, 2010 [posted]

Mobile MedlinePlus®: Health Information On-the-Go

graphical image of the letter I n January 2010, the National Library of Medicine® (NLM®) released a mobile version of MedlinePlus. This new service provides authoritative health information for the growing audience of mobile Internet users by optimizing MedlinePlus and MedlinePlus en español for display on mobile devices.

Mobile MedlinePlus is a mobile Web site, not a mobile "app" (application). Mobile apps are device specific, so a different app must be built and maintained for each device supported. NLM developed a mobile Web site to reach as broad an audience as possible and to be usable on a variety of devices.

One of the greatest challenges in developing a mobile Web site is "device diversity." There are thousands of different kinds of mobile devices accessing the Internet, each with specific features depending on its operating system and mobile service provider. So, while it's challenging enough to develop a "regular" Web site for the variety of "regular" Web browsers, this challenge is multiplied exponentially in the mobile environment.

The Mobile MedlinePlus site recognizes the device accessing it and then optimizes the display for that device (see Figure 1). The technology behind this approach is an open source standard called WURFL (Wireless Universal Resource File). WURFL contains information about capabilities and features for thousands of mobile devices. For example, WURFL tells the Mobile MedlinePlus program how big the screen size is for a specific device. In turn, Mobile MedlinePlus optimizes the images, font size, and other layout elements for that device.

Mobile MedlinePlus is available in English and Spanish and includes a subset of content from the full Web site. It features the summaries for over 800 diseases, conditions and wellness topics as well as the latest health news, an illustrated medical encyclopedia, and information on thousands of prescription and over-the-counter medications (see Figure 2).

The search on Mobile MedlinePlus is powered by Vivísimo, the same technology behind the search on MedlinePlus and many other NLM Web sites (see Figure 3).

Users can now access MedlinePlus information just as easily from a mobile device as from a desktop or laptop computer. NLM anticipates that the mobile version will increase the use of MedlinePlus as well as expand its reach to new audiences.

Visit Mobile MedlinePlus in English at // and in Spanish at //

By Loren Frant
Public Services Division

Frant L. Mobile MedlinePlus®: Health Information On-the-Go. NLM Tech Bull. 2010 Jan-Feb;(372):e6.

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