gms | German Medical Science

Annual Meeting of the German MLA (AGMB)

Basel, 07.09. - 09.09.2015

Efficiently searching for systematic reviews: How to perform high quality searches more efficiently

Meeting Abstract

Search Medline for

  • Wichor Bramer - Medical Library, Erasmus MC, Rotterdam

Arbeitsgemeinschaft für medizinisches Bibliothekswesen (AGMB). Jahrestagung der Arbeitsgemeinschaft für medizinisches Bibliothekswesen (AGMB). Basel, 07.-09.09.2015. Düsseldorf: German Medical Science GMS Publishing House; 2015. Doc15agmb02

doi: 10.3205/15agmb02, urn:nbn:de:0183-15agmb024

Published: July 27, 2015

© 2015 Bramer.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License. See license information at



Objectives: Searching for systematic reviews (SRs), when no relevant articles may be missed, is often very time consuming. Selecting the correct search terms (balancing sensitivity and specificity) and translating queries between databases is challenging. At Erasmus MC a systematic method has been developed for creating optimal search strategies and easy translation into multiple database queries. How efficient is this method and what is the quality of the results?

Methods: The used method has two focus points: creating an optimal search in the first database, and translating that query to other databases. Term completeness is reached by an optimization technique. This method compares the results retrieved by thesaurus terms with those retrieved by the free text search words to discover missed relevant terms, and vice versa to check on missed thesaurus terms. Macros in MS Word have been developed to convert syntaxes automatically between databases and interfaces. Since two years the search process and results of W.M. Bramer have been documented. The included references of finished reviews were obtained from the review authors, and overall sensitivity and specificity of the searches were checked. By comparing these parameters with those of a set of published SRs from other Dutch university medical centers the quality of the searches has been assessed.

Results: With the experience of hundreds of searches in the last three years, Bramer completed 90% of the searches within two hours. The searches contained a slightly higher number of synonyms and were performed in more databases than in the compared set. Fifty percent more hits were retrieved, but the precision was higher because the number of included references was twice as high as in the compared set.

Conclusions: The method allows to good quality searches to be developed fast, therefor many customers can be helped. The methodology of the search strategy and the quality of the search results seem to outperform those of similar institutes, though true comparison is difficult because of different subjects, and differences in data collections methods. Success factors in the process are the optimization techniques for term completeness, the macros for database translation, the access to high quality bibliographic databases and the order using these, the use of single line strategies and the immediate decision of the researcher on the relevance of the proposed search terms.