Relemed: sentence-level search engine with relevance score for the MEDLINE database of biomedical articles

BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2007 Jan 10;7:1. doi: 10.1186/1472-6947-7-1.


Background: Receiving extraneous articles in response to a query submitted to MEDLINE/PubMed is common. When submitting a multi-word query (which is the majority of queries submitted), the presence of all query words within each article may be a necessary condition for retrieving relevant articles, but not sufficient. Ideally a relationship between the query words in the article is also required. We propose that if two words occur within an article, the probability that a relation between them is explained is higher when the words occur within adjacent sentences versus remote sentences. Therefore, sentence-level concurrence can be used as a surrogate for existence of the relationship between the words. In order to avoid the irrelevant articles, one solution would be to increase the search specificity. Another solution is to estimate a relevance score to sort the retrieved articles. However among the >30 retrieval services available for MEDLINE, only a few estimate a relevance score, and none detects and incorporates the relation between the query words as part of the relevance score.

Results: We have developed "Relemed", a search engine for MEDLINE. Relemed increases specificity and precision of retrieval by searching for query words within sentences rather than the whole article. It uses sentence-level concurrence as a statistical surrogate for the existence of relationship between the words. It also estimates a relevance score and sorts the results on this basis, thus shifting irrelevant articles lower down the list. In two case studies, we demonstrate that the most relevant articles appear at the top of the Relemed results, while this is not necessarily the case with a PubMed search. We have also shown that a Relemed search includes not only all the articles retrieved by PubMed, but potentially additional relevant articles, due to the extended 'automatic term mapping' and text-word searching features implemented in Relemed.

Conclusion: By using sentence-level matching, Relemed can deliver higher specificity, thus eliminating more false-positive articles. By introducing an appropriate relevance metric, the most relevant articles on which the user wishes to focus are listed first. Relemed also shrinks the displayed text, and hence the time spent scanning the articles.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Information Storage and Retrieval / methods*
  • MEDLINE / standards*