In order to identify current (and relevant) evidence for a specific clinical question within the unmanageable amount of information available, solid skills in performing a systematic literature search are essential. An efficient approach is to search a biomedical database containing relevant literature citations of study reports. The best known database is MEDLINE, which is searchable for free via the PubMed interface. In this article, we explain step by step how to perform a systematic literature search via PubMed by means of an example research question in the field of ophthalmology. First, we demonstrate how to translate the clinical problem into a well-framed and searchable research question, how to identify relevant search terms and how to conduct a text word search and a search with keywords in medical subject headings (MeSH) terms. We then show how to limit the number of search results if the search yields too many irrelevant hits and how to increase the number in the case of too few citations. Finally, we summarize all essential principles that guide a literature search via PubMed.
Keywords: Bibliographic databases; MEDLINE; Medical subject headings; PubMed; Systematic literature search.