Purpose: Many educational programs seek to develop skills in evidence-based medicine (EBM). The authors examined the efficacy of teaching the EBM skill of efficiently searching the research literature. They compared students who received brief training in EBM searching skills with those who did not, and assessed the quality of literature searching one month after that training.
Method: The authors used a nonrandomized control group study design to quantify the impact of a single, brief (two-hour) instructional intervention on EBM-based techniques for searching Medline for evidence related to a clinical problem provided to the students. Ninety-two fourth-year medical students (34 intervention, 58 control) at the University of Michigan participated in a four-week EBM elective between 2001 and 2003. The authors conducted a pre-intervention assessment of searching skills, followed by a repeat assessment one month after the intervention. Search quality was judged by medical librarians using a structured clinical scenario and scoring algorithm.
Results: Data for 30 intervention and 40 control students could be analyzed. Intervention students had fewer search errors and correspondingly higher quality searches than did control students. The educational intervention accounted for approximately 8% of the variance in both of these outcomes. The most common search errors were a lack of Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) explosion, missing MeSH terms, lack of appropriate limits, failure to search for best evidence, and inappropriate combination of all search concepts.
Conclusions: This study provides evidence that a single, brief training session can have a marked beneficial effect on the quality of subsequent, short-term EBM literature searching performance outcomes.