Patient safety and systematic reviews: finding papers indexed in MEDLINE, EMBASE and CINAHL

Qual Saf Health Care. 2010 Oct;19(5):452-61. doi: 10.1136/qshc.2008.031401. Epub 2010 May 10.


Objective: To develop search strategies for identifying papers on patient safety in MEDLINE, EMBASE and CINAHL.

Methods: Six journals were electronically searched for papers on patient safety published between 2000 and 2006. Identified papers were divided into two gold standards: one to build and the other to validate the search strategies. Candidate terms for strategy construction were identified using a word frequency analysis of titles, abstracts and keywords used to index the papers in the databases. Searches were run for each one of the selected terms independently in every database. Sensitivity, precision and specificity were calculated for each candidate term. Terms with sensitivity greater than 10% were combined to form the final strategies. The search strategies developed were run against the validation gold standard to assess their performance. A final step in the validation process was to compare the performance of each strategy to those of other strategies found in the literature.

Results: We developed strategies for all three databases that were highly sensitive (range 95%-100%), precise (range 40%-60%) and balanced (the product of sensitivity and precision being in the range of 30%-40%). The strategies were very specific and outperformed those found in the literature.

Conclusion: The strategies we developed can meet the needs of users aiming to maximise either sensitivity or precision, or seeking a reasonable compromise between sensitivity and precision, when searching for papers on patient safety in MEDLINE, EMBASE or CINAHL.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Bibliographic
  • Information Storage and Retrieval / methods*
  • Medical Errors
  • Review Literature as Topic*
  • Safety Management*