Utilisation of search filters in systematic reviews of prognosis questions

Health Info Libr J. 2012 Dec;29(4):309-22. doi: 10.1111/hir.12004. Epub 2012 Oct 19.


Background: Search filters are designed to increase efficiency of information retrieval and can be particularly useful in limiting the large numbers of articles retrieved for systematic reviews (SRs). Existing published prognosis search filters (or hedges) have lower sensitivity and precision values than their therapy counterparts.

Objectives: Taking into account the relatively poor performance of prognosis filters, this study seeks to identify which methods of limiting search results to prognostic studies are most often used by SR teams.

Methods: One hundred and three SRs of prognostic studies published in 2009 and indexed in MEDLINE were retrieved. Each review's search strategy was reviewed and prognosis-related search terms were extracted.

Results: Forty-seven of 103 studies used prognosis-related terms to limit the search. Six SRs of 103 did not specify their search terms, and the remaining 50 SRs used content terms only (no terms related to methodology or prognosis). Of the 47 strategies using prognosis-related terms, only six used a published filter. Many SRs used few or poorly selected prognosis-related search terms which are unlikely to provide the sensitivity generally sought for SRs.

Conclusions: Published prognosis search filters are used in only a small minority of prognosis SRs.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Medical Subject Headings
  • Prognosis*
  • Review Literature as Topic*
  • Search Engine