Platform unites medical research

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John Murphy takes a look at Ovid Technologies and the role its platform plays in medical research

Publishers like to think that their brands attract people to their content. But for the majority of users it is just about getting the quality of information they need about what they are searching for. What matters most is the ease of the getting the information rather than who the information is from.

This is where a company like Ovid Technologies comes in. It takes streams of information from publishers and makes them searchable and accessible from a single user interface under a single subscription. You can go directly to the publisher sites if you have the time to learn all the different interfaces but for most people it’s about the results.

Ovid began in 1988 when it produced pioneering software that compressed published information so that it could distribute MEDLINE more efficiently either on CD-ROMs or over a dial-up connection. As time progressed, the company created search tools and licensed other content ranging from journals to books and databases. In 1999 Ovid acquired Silver Platter, another aggregator with a different interface that focused on databases. Over the years the services have merged their back-end systems and eventually the two interfaces are expected to merge over the next two to three years.

While it has been important to keep bringing new data sources into the Ovid platform, the software itself is also a key part of what the company offers. In some cases Ovid does more business than the publisher for a particular source because users prefer the interface. Karen Abramson, the company’s CEO explained: ‘We want users to get to the results they want quicker and utilise what they find in their work.’

Since 1998 Ovid has been part of the Wolters Kluwer empire. This has its own health publishing operation but Ovid is also happy to source information from outside the group. ‘Plenty of competitors to Wolters Kluwer want to deliver their information through Ovid because users want to access their content through this platform,’ said Abramson, pictured above. ‘And some proprietary journal content is only available from Ovid, simply because it has the widest reach.

‘On an average day about 11,000 searchers come on Ovid and in an average month we support 85 million full page views. Last year there were more than a billion uses,’ she commented. These users come from medical schools in the USA, Canada, Japan, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland and elsewhere. ‘Some 97 per cent of the teaching hospitals in the USA use Ovid, as does the National Institutes of Health. All the hospitals in Australia, Hong Kong and Japan use it and so do the top 30 pharmaceutical companies,’ commented Abramson. And this market penetration has reached a stage where subscriptions are being sold to whole US states or even whole countries through agreements with central buying authorities.

A recent addition to the array of tools is called LinkSolver. This allows users to search for what they want within Ovid and then reach out to other resources and services, for example Science Direct, and use their existing subscription to that resource to read the full content. And the SearchSolver service can allow users to search these other services using the Ovid Tools.

‘That enables our users to link through our systems to content available through other subscriptions and they can bring it back and use it for their work product. This has only become possible because of cooperation in the industry to label all their articles with Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs). ‘It is inevitable that large libraries will support more than one service so we enable people to access content outside the Ovid platform while still using Ovid to do the search. As an aggregator, our message is that you can come to us and we will give you access to all the information you need.’

The power of the search tools is clearly applicable outside the medical market and over the years Ovid has added more data sources. Today only about half the current information available is medical, with the rest in areas ranging from science and technology, to arts and literature, offering books, journals and databases. Abramson said that the company is also making searches more robust. While a research scientist may want to see everything that has ever been published on a subject, other researchers might want to do deep vertical searches and just get the information they want without having to wade through 30 pages of results.