Validation of search filters for identifying pediatric studies in PubMed

J Pediatr. 2013 Mar;162(3):629-634.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2012.09.012. Epub 2012 Oct 17.


Objective: To identify and validate PubMed search filters for retrieving studies including children and to develop a new pediatric search filter for PubMed.

Study design: We developed 2 different datasets of studies to evaluate the performance of the identified pediatric search filters, expressed in terms of sensitivity, precision, specificity, accuracy, and number needed to read (NNR). An optimal search filter will have a high sensitivity and high precision with a low NNR.

Results: In addition to the PubMed Limits: All Child: 0-18 years filter (in May 2012 renamed to PubMed Filter Child: 0-18 years), 6 search filters for identifying studies including children were identified: 3 developed by Kastner et al, 1 developed by BestBets, one by the Child Health Field, and 1 by the Cochrane Childhood Cancer Group. Three search filters (Cochrane Childhood Cancer Group, Child Health Field, and BestBets) had the highest sensitivity (99.3%, 99.5%, and 99.3%, respectively) but a lower precision (64.5%, 68.4%, and 66.6% respectively) compared with the other search filters. Two Kastner search filters had a high precision (93.0% and 93.7%, respectively) but a low sensitivity (58.5% and 44.8%, respectively). They failed to identify many pediatric studies in our datasets. The search terms responsible for false-positive results in the reference dataset were determined. With these data, we developed a new search filter for identifying studies with children in PubMed with an optimal sensitivity (99.5%) and precision (69.0%).

Conclusion: Search filters to identify studies including children either have a low sensitivity or a low precision with a high NNR. A new pediatric search filter with a high sensitivity and a low NNR has been developed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pediatrics*
  • PubMed*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Search Engine / methods*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity