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Health Law Research Tips

Updated Nov. 14, 2013.
Prepared by Mary Whisner; updated by Kara Noel (2012).

Papers for health law classes often cross disciplines. For instance, you need to find cases about a medical condition and you need to know a little about the condition itself. Or you need to find news stories about an issue and the legislation that addresses the issue. Or you want to find what doctors and ethicists say about a treatment decision as well as what legislation provides.

One challenge is information overload. So many databases, indexes, journals, and books make it hard to choose where to start or find what you want. This guide offers some tips and suggests just a few sources. See also the Gallagher guides on other related topics.

Medical Literature

PubMed is the most important index of medical and related journals. It is produced by the National Library of Medicine. The largest component of PubMed is MEDLINE. (If you care about the difference click here.)  

UW students: it's best to go in through the UW Health Sciences Library page: you'll get better links to articles. If you're off campus, be sure to click on the off-campus access link at the top of the page. UW Libraries Off-Campus Access link

You can use the user guides to learn how to put together searches, but it's set up so that anyone can type in keywords and get relevant results. For instance, searching for the Affordable Health Care Act produced the following result:


A sidebar links to "Related Articles" -- so one search can lead to more.

TIP: Look for "Review Articles," articles where an author reviews the literature, citing many other people's studies.

For many more databases, see UW Health Sciences Library website.


Law Journals

Searching Full Text

Law students can search the full-text of articles on LexisNexis or Westlaw

Other UW students and faculty should use LexisNexis Academic. UW Restricted

Searching Indexes

If you prefer an index, use LegalTrac. This source is primarily an index, but includes some full-text articles. Law students, you can search the same content (basically) on LexisNexis (look for Legal Resource Index) or Westlaw (LRI database).

Full Text vs. Indexes

Consider these factors when deciding when to use full text sources and/or indexes:

  • LegalTrac covers some publications that are not available on LexisNexis and Westlaw. LegalTrace covers articles from 1980 to date; LexisNexis and Westlaw include journals beginning in the mid-1980s)
  • Searching full-text databases is very powerful, but you may get an overwhelming number of results.There might be a lot of articles with the term you entered that are mostly on a different topic. In an index, you have the benefit of people who have looked at the articles and assigned subject headings.

E.g., if you search for "tuberculosis" in full-text law reviews on LexisNexis, the search fails because there are too many hits.

Too Many hits


If you limit the search to the last six months, you still get over 100 articles -- and the first three are about HPV vaccines, not TB.




If you search LegalTrac, you get fewer hits, but a higher portion are clearly about tuberculosis.


There are ways to focus a full-text search -- for example, requiring your search terms to be in the title of an article, requiring that your terms appear many time (e.g., atleast7(tuberculosis)), requiring that your terms appear in proximity to other terms you care about (e.g., tuberculosis /5 quarantine).



Legal Newsletters

Legal newsletters provide very current coverage in specialized areas of law. They often cover developments that regular news sources don't, or they cover them with more depth.The Gallagher Law Library subscribes to a web platform for newsletters (and some other materials) from Bloomberg BNA. Our license permits use by UW law students and faculty and by anyone who visits the library.

Here are some screen snips showing how to find BNA in our list of databases, the health-law sources, and a bit of a recent issue of

BNA in database list


list of BNA health-related sources


screen snip from BNA's Pharmaceutical Law & Industry Report



Other Disciplines

Looking for philosophy, business, general magazines? See University Libraries Subject Guides.

Academic Search Complete is a good source for general-interest magazines (Time, The Economist, The New Yorker) and selected scholarly journals. (UW Restricted)



The Gallagher Law Library catalog describes books, journals, DVDs, etc., that this library owns. When you find a catalog record that describes an item you want, note the call number and library location (e.g., Reference Area or Classified Stacks). (See the Gallagher guide on Arrangement of the Law Library Collections).


UW Law WorldCat, basic search available from Law Library's homepage, lets you search just the Law Library, Summit (college and university libraries in Washington and Oregon), 25 large academic law libraries, or thousands of libraries from around the world. Searches retrieve not just books but also articles from several indexes, including Article First, British Library Serials, and MEDLINE.

World Cat

Ask Us


Contact a reference librarian if you identify a source that doesn't appear to be available to you.


Government & Organization Reports

U.S. Agencies

Visit the websites of agencies that are involved in your area, e.g.,

Look for sections on the websites called "Publications," "Resources," or "Library."

The Congressional Research Service--part of the Library of Congress--prepares research reports for Congress. These reports often provide an excellent overview of an area, with a balanced discussion of the issues. To identify and find CRS reports, see the Gallagher guide on Congressional Research Service Reports.

U.S. Government Accountability Office


The Government Accountability Office is the investigative arm of Congress. Its mission is to "provide Congress with timely information that is objective, fact-based, nonpartisan, nonideological, fair, and balanced." GAO reports are available on the agency website, on LexisNexis, and on Westlaw.




Nongovernmental Organizations

Here is a selection of relevant NGO's

  • Families USA
  • Health and Human Rights Info -- information on mental health and human rights; pages on gender based violence; child soldiers; post traumatic stress disorder disaster; asylum seekers in Europe; post conflict communities and transitional justice; torture; ethics; helping the helpers


International Organizations

For lists of selected international governmental organizations and international nongovernmental organizations, see the Gallagher guide on  Researching Health and Human Rights.


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