The health sciences encompass all aspects of human health and include such disciplines as medicine, nursing, dentistry, and pharmacy. Within the health sciences, as defined here, there is heavy reliance on other disciplines, such as chemistry, as a foundation for much of the work done. For example, pharmacy, medicine, and, to lesser extents, nursing and dentistry require a grounding in chemistry as a prerequisite to entering the field. Reliance on these “outside” literatures will necessitate some control of them within the health science literature.
Within the health sciences, practitioners rely heavily on the journal literature as the main tool for advancement of the field. A mix of researchers and practitioners contribute to the journal literature, with the mixture weighted slightly toward the researchers. Practitioners are heavy users of handbooks, because the amount of information a practitioner needs to master is impressive, and handbooks are a way to handle the sheer bulk of information. The use of handbooks is especially heavy in pharmacology, where a single drug compound may carry several different names.
A recent development in the health sciences is the increasing integration of activities formerly tightly controlled by each group. An example is the integration of medicine and nursing: a significant number of tasks, formerly the exclusive province of the medical doctor, are now being handled by nurses. The functional integration of these two fields suggests that there must also be literature integration. Although the integration of the literatures is not as rapid or as visible as the functional integration, it is a point of concern for those attempting bibliographic control.
An example within pharmacy of changes in the field is the shift from broad systematic drugs to more targeted approaches to drugs. Advances in chemistry that were transferred to pharmacy and integrated into the research, practice, and literature fostered this change. This type of advance suggests that the chemistry literature, always important to pharmacy, is now even more critical.
The last decade witnessed a huge increase in popular medical literature. Those both inside and outside the health sciences are producing such literature at a staggering rate. The consistent publication rates for these materials suggest strongly that this is not a flash-in-the-pan publishing opportunity. Even on the Internet, a number of Web sites offer health information at varying levels of detail. This literature mirrors the desire of citizens to be more informed about their health. However, this literature also poses a problem for the health sciences. Should it be included in traditional bibliographic control? The answer is far from clear.
An area of growth both in the popular health sciences materials and in some of the research literature is alternative medicine. The first is the public’s fascination with natural means of ensuring or assisting health. Natural products, such as garlic for cholesterol control, appeal to a public that hears how some products offered by the pharmaceutical industry to treat the same condition may cause liver damage.
The second facet is within the health science research community. Pharmaceutical companies have noted the potential for sales and research in natural/alternative drugs. The synthesis of the specific compounds in natural drugs is a large research focus of most pharmaceutical companies and researchers. Research within the health sciences community is mixed regarding some forms of alternative medicine and treatments. In some cases, the research results are mixed, due to a variety of reasons and explanations. The mixed results add to the scepticisms of traditional practitioners and do little to convince non-professionals of the overall efficacy of alternative medicine. What is clear is that such treatments appear to work well for some patients. These results argue strongly that the health sciences must become multifaceted. The consequence of this movement will be an increase in the types and range of literature within the health sciences.
Technology has increased the health sciences’ ability to serve a wider population with more varying techniques. The opportunities for telemedicine and the stress that this technique will place on the health science literature are enormous. These technological advances will continue to change research in and practice of the health sciences and to change the literature that underlies them. The health sciences have one of the strongest and best implemented bibliographic control systems in science and technology. Index Medicus and the MEDLINE system are the envy of other fields. They are the best example of what a government project, done well, can accomplish for bibliographic control. The beauty of the system is that all of the areas discussed in this chapter are included. Where appropriate, additional areas are included as well. The place of alternative medicine and popular materials is less clear in the MEDLINE system, but such materials are finding their way into it.
Without question, the social benefits of the health sciences and the increase in research activity at all levels and in all areas will continue to keep these fields literature-rich. Bibliographic controls are available for most of the health sciences. The difficulty for secondary literature is keeping pace with, or within sight of, the primary literature horizon. In this respect, the health sciences share the problems inherent in the rest of science and technology.