BACKGROUND: We sought to study a variety of terminologic approaches to the use of clinical data for searching on-line information resources. METHODS: We used a collection of narrative text and coded data to search a variety of text-based, concept-based, and concept-indexed resources. RESULTS: Automated retrievals using original terms could be accomplished and technically produced ample results. However, quality of the results varied with the resource. Terminology translations were difficult to accomplish and produced variable results. CONCLUSIONS: Current resources support automated retrieval; however, achieving quality results varies with the terms and the resources, with term translation productive only in select situations.