Efficient literature searching in diffuse topics: lessons from a systematic review of research on communicating risk to patients in primary care

Health Libr Rev. 1999 Jun;16(2):112-20. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2532.1999.00219.x.


Using the example of communication about risk in a primary care setting, this paper puts forward a method of developing and evaluating a detailed search strategy for locating the literature for a systematic review of a 'diffuse' subject. The aim of this paper is to show how to develop a search strategy that maximizes both recall and precision while keeping search outputs manageable. Six different databases were used, namely Medline, Embase, PsychLIT, CancerLIT, Cinahl and Social Science Citation Index (SSCI). The searches were augmented by hand-searching, contacting authors, citation searching and reference lists from included papers. Other databases were searched but yielded no extra references for this subject matter. Of the 99 papers included, 80 were indexed on Medline. The Medline search strategy identified 54 of them and the remaining 26 were located on other databases. The 19 further unique references were found using the other databases and methods of retrieval. A combination of several databases must be used to maximize recall and to increase the precision of searches on individual databases, thus improving the overall efficiency of the search.

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Bibliographic*
  • Health Services Research
  • Information Storage and Retrieval*
  • Informed Consent
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Pilot Projects
  • Risk Factors
  • Truth Disclosure
  • United Kingdom
  • User-Computer Interface