Options and challenges when searching for palliative care evidence

Effective searching requires both knowledge and skills: knowing which databases exist and are likely to be most useful, and how to search them. Many libraries offer training programmes, and tutorials are available on the web. Searching for published research literature in any discipline requires skills and knowledge. Yet the field of palliative care offers its own challenges:

  • The literature is 'diffuse', ie, there are wide ranges of topics of interest to, but not the sole domain of, palliative care.
  • Relevant literature lies not only in the specialty palliative journals, but also in general journals. It is also found in domains outside of biomedicine, such as psychology, theology, philosophy, ethics, sociology (each with their own databases).
  • As an emerging field, the nomenclature (the language it uses) takes time to develop. There may be a lack of consistent terminology and descriptiveness in manuscripts.
  • Authors (especially those outside of palliative care) may not nominate palliative care subject headings in the editorial process, nor use language, in writing an article itself, to identify it as being of interest to palliative care.
  • Some relevant questions in palliative care are difficult to answer using randomised controlled trials, or have not yet been formally studied. The best available evidence may lie in unpublished papers, reports and theses, or else be published in journals not indexed in databases such as PubMed.

In the following we cover some of the basic principles and strategies. If you are ready to locate evidence resources explore the CareSearch collections and tools for: guidelines, clinical evidence syntheses, systematic reviews, tailored PubMed search filters, and grey literature.

Last updated 07 September 2021