Background: Many recently published clinical studies report sex-specific data. This information may help to improve clinical decision-making for both sexes, but it is not easily accessible in MEDLINE. The aim of this project was to develop and validate a search filter that would facilitate the retrieval of studies reporting high quality sex-specific data on clinical questions.
Methods: A filter was developed by screening titles, abstracts and Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) in a set of 80 high quality and relevant papers, 75 of which were identified through a review of clinical guidelines and five through other means. The filter, for use on OvidSP, consists of nine command lines for searching free text words in the title, abstract and MeSH of a paper. It was able to identify 74/80 (92.5%) of the articles from which it was derived. The filter was evaluated in a set of 622 recently published original studies on Alzheimer's disease and on asthma. It was validated against a reference of 98 studies from this set, which provided high quality, clinically relevant, sex-specific evidence. Recall and precision were used as performance measures.
Results: The filter demonstrated 81/98 (83%) recall and 81/125 (65%) precision in retrieving relevant articles on Alzheimer's disease and on asthma. In comparison, only 30/98 (31%) recall would have been achieved if sex-specific MeSH terms only had been used.
Conclusion: This sex-specific search filter performs well in retrieving relevant papers, while its precision rate is good. It performs better than a search with sex-specific MeSH. The filter can be useful to anyone seeking sex-specific clinical evidence (e.g., guideline organizations, researchers, medical educators, clinicians).