Before a search can be performed, it is crucial that the research question is explicitly defined. Systematic searches should aim to search as many different sources as possible.
There are many ways to do this, but the most common method is to divide your question according to the Patients, Interventions, Comparisons and Outcomes (PICO) model. This can be broken down into the following: Online databases* (this will be the major area for medical literature searches) Books/physical literature Grey literature* (this refers to unpublished material/published in a non-commercial form) Ongoing trials (clinicaltrials.gov) Humans Animals Other *The following databases are useful for clinical systematic reviews: Psych INFO – key database for mental health literature MEDLINE – large medical database EMBASE – large medical database SCOPUS – includes many scientific disciplines Cochrane Library – high-quality evidence Web of Science – includes many scientific disciplines CINAHL – includes biomedicine, healthcare, nursing and allied health articles *Examples of grey literature databases include: Open Grey Copac When searching online databases, the terms and their synonyms for each of the components of the PICO model must be written out, including abbreviations.
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It can seem confusing or difficult and is often substituted for a more manageable, less rigorous search.
The following checklist should provide a clear framework for those wanting to ensure their search is truly systematic.
Let’s imagine we want to conduct a systematic review to assess the effect of primary percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) versus streptokinase on mortality in myocardial infarction (MI) patients.
As you can see, each line represents a synonymous term that is searched for, with the corresponding number of articles found in the results column.
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