BACKGROUND: Physicians are often encouraged to locate answers for their clinical queries via an evidence-based literature search approach. The methods used are often not clearly specified. Inappropriate search strategies, time constraint and contradictory information complicate evidence retrieval.
AIMS: Our study aimed to develop a search strategy to answer clinical queries among physicians in a primary care setting.
METHODS: Six clinical questions of different medical conditions seen in primary care were formulated. A series of experimental searches to answer each question was conducted on 3 commonly advocated medical databases. We compared search results from a PICO (patients, intervention, comparison, outcome) framework for questions using different combinations of PICO elements. We also compared outcomes from doing searches using text words, Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), or a combination of both. All searches were documented using screenshots and saved search strategies.
RESULTS: Answers to all 6 questions using the PICO framework were found. A higher number of systematic reviews were obtained using a 2 PICO element search compared to a 4 element search. A more optimal choice of search is a combination of both text words and MeSH terms. Despite searching using the Systematic Review filter, many non-systematic reviews or narrative reviews were found in PubMed. There was poor overlap between outcomes of searches using different databases. The duration of search and screening for the 6 questions ranged from 1 to 4 hours.
CONCLUSION: This strategy has been shown to be feasible and can provide evidence to doctors' clinical questions. It has the potential to be incorporated into an interventional study to determine the impact of an online evidence retrieval system.