ClinicalKey by Elsevier

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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg This entry is out of date, and will not be updated, September 2018


See also DynaMed Plus | Point-of-care tools in medicine | UpToDate

"...ClinicalKey is an online search engine that is marketed as a premier product because it provides search features and attributes that are only partially available in similar online search engines. The attributes include speed, trustworthiness, and comprehensive coverage of clinical topics. ClinicalKey subscriptions are available for individuals and institutions. Hospital, academic, and special libraries will find the content useful to support their clinical staff. The content includes patient information. This information is important as clinicians are increasingly striving to assist in educating their patients so that they become actively involved in their healthcare decisions..." — Green, 2014
  • "...ClinicalKey, a subscription-based Elsevier product, bills itself as a "clinical insight engine". It combines more than [1000] books, [500] journals, and [9,000] videos into one search engine for the practicing health care professional. To distinguish itself from other one-stop search engines, ClinicalKey offers Smart Content, which uses the Elsevier Merged Medical Taxonomy (EmMET) to organize its large holdings. Smart Content is designed to make searches easier, results more relevant, and the entire search process better aligned with a health care professional’s workflow..." — Vardell, 2013
  • According to Wikipedia, ClinicalKey is a medical search engine and database owned by scientific publisher, Elsevier, which can be used from any device; it offers access to a medical library of resources, and full access to Elsevier journals, books and medical videos; provides links to reviews from First Consult, and gives tags known as "smart content" using Elsevier's Merged Medical Taxonomy."
  • ClinicalKey has more than 1200 full-text books, 650 journals, 850 First Consult monographs, and 2,900 drug monographs; 15,000+ customizable patient handouts and more than five million images across 35+ medical specialties. Some e-book titles include Ferri's Clinical Advisor; Gray's Anatomy, 40e; The Harriet Lane Handbook, 12e; Kelly's Textbook of Rheumatology, 9e; and Kumar and Clark's Clinical Medicine, 8e. The book content is continuously updated and revised when updated information becomes available. ClinicalKey's e-book content is easily accessible by accessing durable URLs to each book and to chapters within the books. The e-book content in ClinicalKey represents specialties ranging from medical education to pediatrics.
  • ClinicalKey contains much more content than its predecessors - ~1100 books, procedure videos, journals, thousands of images, etc. A presentation maker allows users to transfer images into ppts (along with captions and citation). The presentation maker and other features are available if users create a free account. All e-journal content appears to be available as both HTML and PDF versions without a personal login, at least some of the ebook PDF content appears to require a personal login (ebooks are still available in HTML without a login).
  • While First Consult had an iPhone app, CK does not. Instead, it is meant to adapt automatically to fit on various devices. This does require an internet connection.
  • Medical librarians say ClinicalKey is a meta-search tool for Elsevier's content which includes journals, textbooks, clinical guidelines, clinical trials, First Consult reviews, images and PubMed. Users can export citations, images and copyright information into powepoint presentations.
  • ClinicalKey is probably the largest, most comprehensive product available for finding clinical medical information; Elsevier is one of the largest medical publishers, and CK brings together into one bundled package, with one bundled subscription price and without ownership rights, all journals and books for physicians found in MD Consult, Procedures Consult and First Consult. Its content can be searched with PubMed and via a Google-like search interface; high recall of text, images and video
  • Despite quirks with relevancy rankings in search results, CK presents key sources to searchers such as guidelines, procedures videos, point-of-care information, or systematic reviews. As a one-stop-search tool, its sheer size and breadth are both its strength and its weakness. It doesn't really function as well as dedicated point-of-care tools for their simplicity and ease of use at the bedside. But it does allow a user to search a huge number of quality sources for research and teaching purposes.
  • An above-average score for content and functionality are brought down by lack of pricing options and library-unfriendly contract provisions.
  • Some caveats:
  • Some Web browsers work better than others with ClinicalKey
  • No one source is complete for any subject. It is prudent to supplement Clinical Key with resources such as AccessMedicine and DynaMed.
  • Comprehensive journal article searching is best done by searching the databases directly; PubMed for example provides more filters than ClinicalKey and includes searching by subject terms
  • ClinicalKey does not always find all relevant National Guideline Clearinghouse guidelines for a given topic.

Content Overview

Overall, ClinicalKey provides access to the following content:

  • Elsevier medical and surgical journals (over 500); some third-party journals and content sources
  • Elsevier medical and surgical reference books (over 1100)
  • The medical and surgical clinics of North America; First Consult point-of-care monographs; Procedures Consult content and associated videos
  • Clinical Pharmacology drug monographs from Gold Standard
  • Elsevier medical and surgical videos (over 13,000+)
  • Millions of medical and surgical images
  • 2,000+ Clinical Practice Guidelines

Elsevier and third-party published patient education handouts in both English and Spanish, where available.

Comments in 2014-2015 from health librarians on listservs

  • ClinicalKey has a lot of excellent, quality content. And that is the ONLY positive thing I can say about it.
  • ...we've actually accessed 167 out of 500+ journal titles available in three months. Our per-title and per-article usage costs are very high; our users complain that they can't find what they want in a search because it's too complicated.
  • ...we spend too much time analyzing usage stats to feel good about paying for hundreds of journals we will never use, and of course (as someone else has pointed out) they bundle titles so that no one or two subsets will supply what you need.
  • ...Elsevier, pleas untie your no-substitutions-allowed bundles and offer us something we WANT: what about offering bundles by NUMBER of titles: 50 titles OF OUR CHOICE
  • One of the biggest limitations to the ClinicalKey database is the lack of a mobile website or an app. Most clinicians rely on their handheld devices to get medical information
  • The title of the database is ClinicalKey, yet the content seems to be more oriented to education. Clinical information is generally considered to come from the secondary literature. The only secondary component to ClinicalKey is the absorbed First Consult.
  • First Consult has a “high proportion of references that were of higher levels of evidence (systematic reviews, randomized control trials),” though the frequency with which the database is updated is lacking in comparison to other point-of-care tools (JCE). 3 The rest of the resources appear geared more toward the clinical educator or novice clinician.
  • The database does not have any way to export citations to citation management software. The reason given for not including a citation export tool is that “because of the clinical orientation of the product, we [Elsevier] chose not to include this functionality.” The user is directed to Science Direct, as Elsevier's research focused database for citation management export capabilities.
  • ClinicalKey has taken the place of MDConsult with MDConsult being phased out in December 2014. One of the downsides is that some of the book and journal titles will not be carried over from MDConsult to ClinicalKey. This could be problematic if titles have to be purchased from other vendors; having all of Elsevier's content in one location is expensive; the price increase for access to all of these resources could be cost prohibitive to smaller institutions and hospitals.


  • To see a full list of resources, start/end dates, etc. for ClinicalKey go here:
  • ClinicalKey has a breadth of content but it's a high price to pay for books and journals most physicians will rarely use (or never)
  • CK has a limited 5-yr backfile that will subtract content every year
  • Other than JournalsConsult (a la carte ScienceDirect), the only option for Elsevier content (and only links to Elsevier content)
  • Early reviews say functionality is not good ie., no linking to (or from) PubMed or other platforms (e.g., Ovid)
  • search functions are terrible; no "advanced search" or even simple citation search capabilities, not even internal linking from a reference in CK to the article in CK; no new issue alerts
  • ClinicalKey is basically a federated search of Elsevier's health science material
  • difficult to see how to export or print selected citations that ARE actually citations
  • catering to end-users who type in words and retrieve one or two articles; impossible to do a sophisticated, targeted or refined search
  • bottom line: ClinicalKey is a whole lot of articles and books plus First Consult (with no levels of evidence included, by the way)
  • do you need all this content? they need to improve the access, searchability and functionality
  • CK is Elsevier's way to compete with UpToDate; they'll have to augment FirstConsult section considerably, and plan on it
  • CK stressing this will be a very current resource based on feedback from physicians; journal content will only go back as far as 2008
  • all the backfile content we used to pay money for is no longer available; librarians would be excited about CK if they would keep the archive that is currently available in MDC
  • unless we can link all the journals in PubMed, CK is not needed; UpToDate is the resource of choice


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