Background: Challenges exist when searching for diagnostic test accuracy (DTA) studies that include the design of DTA search strategies and selection of appropriate filters. This paper compares the performance of three MEDLINE search strategies for psychometric diagnostic test accuracy (DTA) studies in postnatal depression.
Methods: A reference set of six relevant studies was derived from a forward citation search via Web of Knowledge. The performance of the 'target condition and index test' method recommended by the Cochrane DTA Group was compared to two alternative strategies which included methodological filters. Outcome measures were total citations retrieved, sensitivity, precision and associated 95% confidence intervals (95%CI).
Results: The Cochrane recommended strategy and one of the filtered search strategies were equivalent in performance and both retrieved a total of 105 citations, sensitivity was 100% (95% CI 61%, 100%) and precision was 5.2% (2.6%, 11.9%). The second filtered search retrieved a total of 31 citations, sensitivity was 66.6% (30%, 90%) and precision was 12.9% (5.1%, 28.6%). This search missed the DTA study with most relevance to the DTA review.
Conclusions: The Cochrane recommended search strategy, 'target condition and index test', method was pragmatic and sensitive. It was considered the optimum method for retrieval of relevant studies for a psychometric DTA review (in this case for postnatal depression). Potential limitations of using filtered searches during a psychometric mental health DTA review should be considered.