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KU Medical Library - PubMed vs. Embase

This guide will compare two of the most popular medical research databases: PubMed and Embase.

PubMed and Embase

PubMed and Embase are two of the most popular research databases for finding medical-related research. This guide will help you understand the two of them and how to conduct searches in each.

Both are prominent medical literature databases that help researchers, healthcare professionals, and students in the fields of medicine, life sciences, and related disciplines. While they share some similarities, they differ in terms of their scope, coverage, and usability.

Image of PubMed logoPubMed, from the National Library of Medicine (NLM) in the US, is a free medical database. The KU Medical Library offers a version with links to full text: PubMed@KU. It is a comprehensive source for peer-reviewed research, clinical studies, and medical literature. It includes specialized and advanced search features, such as its Medical Subject Headings (MeSH). You can find a more detailed overview from the KU Medical Library of just PubMed at

Image of Embase logoEmbase is a medical literature database with a bit of a more specialized focus. It includes coverage of pharmaceutical and pharmacological research, drug-related information, drug safety, and pharmacovigilance. It also includes specialized search related to the PICO framework, medical devices, and diseases. It offers its own set of subject terms, Emtree, that play the same role that MeSH does in PubMed. There is an overview of Embase from the KU Medical Library at

Both databases are key resources in medical research. Researchers frequently use both databases to ensure thorough searches in the available medical literature. This guide will help you use both in conjunction as you start your research.

What about Google Scholar?

Image of Google Scholar logoGoogle Scholar is a popular tool for finding medical literature. It does offer some advantages, including:

  • Ease of use
  • Broad searching
  • Nice features such as links for citing and related articles
  • Some free full text (look for a link with [PDF] or [HTML] to the right of article's information)

That said, it also has limitations, especially compared to PubMed and Embase:

  • Very limited search options, including very basic advanced search
  • No subject term searching, only keywords
  • Does not show how it is actually searching, unlike PubMed and Embase
  • Does a poor job exporting articles to citation tools

In short, Google Scholar has its place, but it better to start your medical research with PubMed and Embase. This is especially true for the type of advanced kind of searches you will need to build for things like systematic reviews.