Searching multiple databases for systematic reviews: added value or diminishing returns?

Complement Ther Med. 2004 Dec;12(4):228-32. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2004.09.003.


Objective: To explore whether searching specialised bibliographic databases identified additional relevant papers to those located by a Medline search for a systematic review of exercise therapy.

Method: Searches were performed in Medline, two further generalised medical databases (Embase, Cochrane Library) and four specialised databases (CancerLit, Cinahl, PsychInfo, SportDiscus) to identify controlled trials of exercise interventions for cancer patients.

Results: A total of 749 different publications were located through the search, of which 18 met inclusion criteria. Fifteen (83%) of these were identified through Medline and three (17%) from three individual specialised databases. A further seven studies meeting inclusion criteria were located through reference lists and contact with experts.

Conclusion: In this example, searching Medline and additional specialised databases along with checking reference lists and contacting experts was the most effective means of ensuring that all relevant papers were included in the review. Searching Medline alone for systematic reviews of exercise or other unconventional therapies is likely to be inadequate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Bibliographic / standards*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Humans
  • Information Storage and Retrieval / methods
  • Internet / standards*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Subject Headings*