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Enhancing Skills for Systematic Reviews part 1: searching healthcare databases Clare Crowley Sonya Lipcyznska PowerPoint Presentation
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Enhancing Skills for Systematic Reviews part 1: searching healthcare databases Clare Crowley Sonya Lipcyznska
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  1. Enhancing Skills for Systematic Reviews part 1: searching healthcare databasesClare CrowleySonya Lipcyznska

  2. Learning Objectives • Brief overview of what is involved in doing a systematic review • Understand the importance of drawing up a clear search strategy • Know where to look to find information • Understand the importance of recording your search strategy properly • Know where to go to get more help

  3. High quality systematic reviews seek to: • Identify all relevant published and unpublished evidence • Select studies or reports for inclusion • Assess the quality of each study or report • Synthesise the findings from individual studies or reports in an unbiased way • Interpret the findings and present a balanced and impartial summary of the findings with due consideration of any flaws in the evidence. (Hemingway, 2001) They are the foundation stone of evidence-based medicine!

  4. The stages of a systematic review Cochrane Collaboration sets out eight stages of doing a systematic review • Defining the review question and developing criteria for including studies • Searching for studies • Selecting studies and collecting data • Assessing risk of bias in included studies • Analysing data and undertaking meta-analyses • Addressing reporting biases • Presenting results and “summary of findings” tables • Interpreting results and drawing conclusions

  5. Drawing up your search Need to: Define your question! Identify topics for searching Use free text AND subject headings Identify as many synonyms as possible and combine with OR Don’t use language or date limits at this point – you’ll need to cast your net as widely as possible as only a small fraction of studies will meet your quality threshold You can use filters to find randomised controlled trials available at

  6. Where to search 1 • Ovid databases – Medline, PscyInfo, Embase • CINAHL • Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials • Web of Science • Scopus • HMIC • ASSIA

  7. Where to search 2 Make sure you choose the most appropriate database for your topic e.g. Medicine, dentistry etc = Medline Drugs = Embase Psychotherapy = PsycInfo Nursing = CINAHL Social Sciences = Scopus, ASSIA

  8. Focus your question Ask focused, answerable questions NOT What is the most effective intervention for treating eating disorders?

  9. Focus your question Ask focused, answerable questions INSTEAD Is cognitive therapy better than antidepressants for treating eating disorders?

  10. PICO search P = Patient, population / problem, condition I = Intervention / exposure C = comparison – comparing therapies or options O = outcome – the effects of the intervention

  11. AND Retrieves results containing only both terms e.g. eating disorders AND cognitive therapy Makes search more specific Sometimes automatic for two or more terms depending on database

  12. OR Retrieves results containing either term, i.e. inclusive Useful for synonyms and related terms e.g. antidepressant drugs OR antidepressive agents Useful for variant terms e.g. SSRI OR Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors Makes search broader

  13. Subject heading searching Standardised terms Assigned by expert indexers (humans not machines!) Allows exploration of associated (broader, narrower and related) terms in subject tree. Can help your search and avoid problems inherent in free text Can retrieve articles where the term does not occur in title or abstract

  14. Using subject headings Not all databases provide subject headings or a thesaurus Medline uses MeSH, EMBASE uses EMTREE etc.. In OvidSP search usually maps to headings by default. Remember to check ‘Scope’ notes and explore the subject tree where you can explode or focus terms. Search in stages and then combine results using Search History functions

  15. Free text searching Free text, keyword, or ‘natural language’ searching The strategy used for searching the web and any database Finds results if the words you are searching for are present in: article title abstract keywords You will find an article if you use the same terminology as the author(s)

  16. Problems with free text searching The ambiguity of ‘natural language’ Synonyms, homonyms etc.. Variant forms of the same word or phrase – spelling, plural v. singular, abbreviations etc.. How do you know what you are missing?

  17. Free text search tools Phrases – “antidepressant drugs” Truncation – depress* Wildcard searching – p?ediatrics Adjacency searching – cognitive adj2 therapy

  18. Find full text Finding full text Electronically as ‘e-journals’ In print at King’s libraries In print at other libraries (e.g. other UL colleges) Document delivery – interlibrary loans Look out for the SFX@King’s logo – link to full text

  19. An example of a search strategy (navigate to Appendices for search strategy via ‘Jump to’ box under Article tab). Adjacency Truncation Synonyms Subject headings v free text searching Limit to specific fields e.g. PT (publication type)

  20. Summaries of Evidence BMJ Clinical Evidence Promotes informed decision making by summarising what’s known – and not known – about many conditions and treatments

  21. NHS Evidence NICE search engine of evidence based resources, e.g. guidelines and reviews

  22. Using Filters Cochrane filter SIGN Centre for Reviews and Dissemination

  23. The Cochrane Handbook The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions is the official document that describes in detail the process of preparing and maintaining Cochrane systematic reviews on the effects of healthcare interventions. Part 2, Section 6 – Searching for Studies.

  24. Further information and support Library Services’ Searching for Literature guide User guides on specific interfaces and databases at available at Contact your school’s Information Specialist at