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Qual Life Res. 2009 Oct;18(8):1115-23. doi: 10.1007/s11136-009-9528-5. Epub 2009 Aug 27.

Development of a methodological PubMed search filter for finding studies on measurement properties of measurement instruments.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and the EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, van der Boechorststraat 7, 1081 BT, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.



For the measurement of patient-reported outcomes, such as (health-related) quality of life, often many measurement instruments exist that intend to measure the same construct. To facilitate instrument selection, our aim was to develop a highly sensitive search filter for finding studies on measurement properties of measurement instruments in PubMed and a more precise search filter that needs less abstracts to be screened, but at a higher risk of missing relevant studies.


A random sample of 10,000 PubMed records (01-01-1990 to 31-12-2006) was used as a gold standard. Studies on measurement properties were identified using an exclusion filter and hand searching. Search terms were selected from the relevant records in the gold standard as well as from 100 systematic reviews of measurement properties and combined based on sensitivity and precision. The performance of the filters was tested in the gold standard as well as in two validation sets, by calculating sensitivity, precision, specificity, and number needed to read.


We identified 116 studies on measurement properties in the gold standard. The sensitive search filter was able to retrieve 113 of these 116 studies (sensitivity 97.4%, precision 4.4%). The precise search filter had a sensitivity of 93.1% and a precision of 9.4%. Both filters performed very well in the validation sets.


The use of these search filters will contribute to evidence-based selection of measurement instruments in all medical fields.

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