What are they and what do they offer?
- PubMed literature search strategies that are saved as weblinks
- 50+ topic searches developed by a medical librarian using the best available research evidence about effective searching
- results are restricted to English, palliative care related literature
- quick, real time searches (ie, always current)
- entry points into the literature for those with limited searching skills and knowledge
- 5 search options per topic are available
What are their limitations?
- searches are not comprehensive; they typically use only a handful of MeSH terms/textwords to represents topics
- choosing free full text searches will restrict retrieval significantly
- PubMed does not index all of the world's literature
- sometimes there may be few (or occasionally zero) results - but this will change in time as publications emerge
Why limit a search to 'free full text only' searches?
This limits retrieval to references with an electronic link to a freely available full text version of the corresponding journal article. The benefit is immediate and timely access to the article, which might otherwise only be available through a formal library service (which not everyone has). However it is also restrictive. Many publishers of palliative journals do not provide such free access, so these will be excluded. Further, references with an abstract are often useful in the absence of the article itself, yet these will be excluded. Finally, a decision based on freely available journal articles may be biased in favour of the findings in those articles. Yet these articles may not be representative of the broader published evidence base.
Why limit a search to 'strongest evidence'?
These searches limit retrieval to systematic reviews or randomised controlled trials. Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council states in the document How to use the evidence: assessment and application of scientific evidence (516kb pdf) that systematic reviews or randomised controlled trials are two of the highest levels of evidence to answer key research questions, ie, they are most likely to provide valid conclusions.
A small reality check...
There is no perfect search. Each search is influenced by a searcher's decisions. As an example, consider the MeSH term 'human'. If we restricted these searches to humans only, results would exclude articles about animals. However, this would also exclude every single article not yet indexed with MeSH terms (which is a large number). So, we decided not to restrict searches to humans. The upside is that you will retrieve more relevant articles overall. The downside is that occasionally an article about monkeys or dogs might appear.
The outward simplicity of these PubMed Topic Searches belies their sophisticated development. The decisions underlying their construction are provided in more detail in Technical Notes, but we caution that these are not for the faint hearted!
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