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, 5 (4), e33

Expert Search Strategies: The Information Retrieval Practices of Healthcare Information Professionals

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Expert Search Strategies: The Information Retrieval Practices of Healthcare Information Professionals

Tony Russell-Rose et al. JMIR Med Inform.

Abstract

Background: Healthcare information professionals play a key role in closing the knowledge gap between medical research and clinical practice. Their work involves meticulous searching of literature databases using complex search strategies that can consist of hundreds of keywords, operators, and ontology terms. This process is prone to error and can lead to inefficiency and bias if performed incorrectly.

Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate the search behavior of healthcare information professionals, uncovering their needs, goals, and requirements for information retrieval systems.

Methods: A survey was distributed to healthcare information professionals via professional association email discussion lists. It investigated the search tasks they undertake, their techniques for search strategy formulation, their approaches to evaluating search results, and their preferred functionality for searching library-style databases. The popular literature search system PubMed was then evaluated to determine the extent to which their needs were met.

Results: The 107 respondents indicated that their information retrieval process relied on the use of complex, repeatable, and transparent search strategies. On average it took 60 minutes to formulate a search strategy, with a search task taking 4 hours and consisting of 15 strategy lines. Respondents reviewed a median of 175 results per search task, far more than they would ideally like (100). The most desired features of a search system were merging search queries and combining search results.

Conclusions: Healthcare information professionals routinely address some of the most challenging information retrieval problems of any profession. However, their needs are not fully supported by current literature search systems and there is demand for improved functionality, in particular regarding the development and management of search strategies.

Keywords: information management; information systems; review; search engine; surveys and questionnaires.

Conflict of interest statement

Conflicts of Interest: None declared.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Age of respondents.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Data sources most frequently searched.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Importance of query formulation functionality.
Figure 4
Figure 4
Usage of restriction criteria.
Figure 5
Figure 5
Activities that respondents engage in when completing a search task.
Figure 6
Figure 6
Ideal features of a literature search system.

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