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Strategies for Searching the Literature Using PubMed

Course Number: 340


Finding evidence to answer clinical questions requires skills that many professional programs are just now incorporating into curriculum. Although there is no one “correct” way to conduct a search, knowing how databases are designed and their key features allows you to be more efficient in quickly identifying relevant articles that can be used in clinical decision-making. The more successful you are, the more likely you will continue to search for the scientific evidence when it’s needed.

PubMed offers two searching strategies, each of which can be conducted very efficiently if users take the time to learn how to use the Filters and Advanced Search features. With the development of evidence-based searching algorithms, the PubMed Clinical Queries feature is the preferred strategy in that it uses a streamlined searching mechanism that eliminates or reduces the need for multiple steps. In both case scenarios, relevant citations were found in 1-2 steps using the Clinical Queries feature vs. 5-7 steps using the PubMed comprehensive search strategy. Also, in each scenario, a more manageable number of clinically relevant and higher level evidence citations were identified more quickly using Clinical Queries. This is a significant consideration in that individuals with limited experience using PubMed can be successful in finding useful information as they develop or refine their searching skills.

Just as in learning any skill, practice in conducting searches is needed. Again, one suggestion to gain hands-on experience is to follow the case scenarios in this course by opening a second window in your browser and doing each step as you read about it in the course. Another suggestion is to print out the pdf file of the course and use it as a guide after completing the course.

To gain a more in depth understanding of PubMed, access their tutorials at PubMed Online Training, These include Quick Tours, which are brief animated tutorials with audio and cover a wide range of topics. Also, several areas have YouTube videos demonstrating different features, such as using the Advance search feature.