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Health Info Libr J. 2012 Mar;29(1):28-38. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-1842.2011.00972.x. Epub 2011 Dec 19.

Sensitivity and precision of adverse effects search filters in MEDLINE and EMBASE: a case study of fractures with thiazolidinediones.

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  • 1Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD), University of York, York, UK.



Search filters have been developed in MEDLINE and EMBASE to help overcome the challenges of searching electronic databases for information on adverse effects. However, little evaluation of their effectiveness has been carried out.


To measure the sensitivity and precision of available adverse effects search filters in MEDLINE and EMBASE.


A case study systematic review of fracture related adverse effects associated with the use of thiazolidinediones was used. Twelve MEDLINE search strategies and three EMBASE search strategies were tested.


Nineteen relevant references from MEDLINE and 24 from EMBASE were included in the review. Four search filters in MEDLINE achieved high sensitivity (95 or 100%) with an improved level of precision from searches without any adverse effects filter. High precision in MEDLINE could also be achieved (up to 53%) using search filters that rely on Medical Subject Headings. No search filter in EMBASE achieved high precision (all were under 5%) and the highest sensitivity in EMBASE was 83%.


Adverse effects search filters appear to be effective in MEDLINE for achieving either high sensitivity or high precision. Search filters in EMBASE, however, do not appear as effective, particularly in improving precision.

© 2011 The authors. Health Information and Libraries Journal © 2011 Health Libraries Group.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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