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2008 MAY–JUNE No. 362
May 08, 2008 [posted]

MedlinePlus® Debuts Health Information in Multiple Languages

O n May 7, 2008, MedlinePlus introduced a multilingual feature, providing access to high quality health information in languages other than English and Spanish. This new service benefits people who prefer to read health information in their native language. It also helps the information professionals and health care providers who serve them. The collection contains over 2,500 links to information in more than 40 languages and covers nearly 250 Health Topics.


Physicians, health clinic personnel, hospital librarians and public librarians serve patients and patrons who seek health information in their native languages. According to a 2006 survey of over 850 hospitals nationwide, 80% treat patients with limited English proficiency1. In the same year, two out of three internal medicine physicians reported treating patients with limited English proficiency in their practices2. Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Russian, and Vietnamese are among the most common languages spoken by these patients.


Despite the nationwide demand, free online consumer health information in multiple languages has not been readily available. Hospitals, clinics and local health departments often lack the resources necessary to review translations for medical accuracy and cultural appropriateness. In addition, their multilingual information often highlights services and programs relevant only to their communities.

Now, however, the federal government and nationwide voluntary health organizations produce high quality health information in multiple languages. Most of these organizations rely on professional translators rather than volunteers, and they engage medical experts to review their content. In short, they are applying the same rigor to their multilingual information as they do to their information in English and Spanish.

Quality Guidelines

The MedlinePlus collection of health information in multiple languages is not meant to be comprehensive. Instead, as with our English and Spanish collections, MedlinePlus staff selects materials according to our quality guidelines. Materials must be produced by the United States Federal government or a U.S.-based organization, such as a medical association or a hospital. The producer must describe the translation, review and updating process. In addition, the content must be appropriate for a U.S. consumer audience, and it must be authoritative and current. MedlinePlus staff also looks for English equivalents to the multilingual information.

Navigation and Search

Users can navigate the new collection of health information in multiple languages either by language (see Figure 1) or by topic (see Figure 2). The page listing all of the languages covered in the collection is linked from the MedlinePlus homepage.

The languages box on the English Health Topic pages also links users to the collection of health information in multiple languages (see Figure 3).

MedlinePlus users who prefer to search rather than browse for non-English health information are well-served by the Vivisimo® search engine (see Figure 4 ).

Cool Tool

An interactive world map teaches users about the number of people who speak nine of the languages in the MedlinePlus collection (see Figure 5). The languages – Arabic, Chinese, French, Korean, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese – are among those most frequently spoken at home in the United States other than English, according to the 2000 U.S. census.

As always, NLM® welcomes your comments and suggestions about MedlinePlus. A "Contact Us" link appears at the top of every MedlinePlus page.

1 [link removed] Hasnain-Wynia, Romana, Julie Yonek, Debra Pierce et al. Hospital Language Services for People with Limited English Proficiency: Results from a National Survey. 2006 Health Research and Educational Trust.

2American College of Physicians. Language Services for Patients with Limited English Proficiency: Results of a National Survey of Internal Medicine Physicians. Philadelphia: American College of Physicians; 2006: Position Paper. (Available from American College of Physicians, 190 N. Independence Mall West, Philadelphia, PA 19106.)

By Linda Ferguson
Public Services Division
Loren Frant
Public Services Division

Ferguson L, Frant L. MedlinePlus® Debuts Health Information in Multiple Languages. NLM Tech Bull. 2008 May-Jun; (362):e4.