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J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2017 Nov 30. doi: 10.1093/jamia/ocx134. [Epub ahead of print]

User needs analysis and usability assessment of DataMed - a biomedical data discovery index.

Author information

University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, School of Biomedical Informatics, Houston, TX, USA.
University of California San Diego Health System, Department of Biomedical Informatics, La Jolla, CA, USA.



To present user needs and usability evaluations of DataMed, a Data Discovery Index (DDI) that allows searching for biomedical data from multiple sources.

Materials and Methods:

We conducted 2 phases of user studies. Phase 1 was a user needs analysis conducted before the development of DataMed, consisting of interviews with researchers. Phase 2 involved iterative usability evaluations of DataMed prototypes. We analyzed data qualitatively to document researchers' information and user interface needs.


Biomedical researchers' information needs in data discovery are complex, multidimensional, and shaped by their context, domain knowledge, and technical experience. User needs analyses validate the need for a DDI, while usability evaluations of DataMed show that even though aggregating metadata into a common search engine and applying traditional information retrieval tools are promising first steps, there remain challenges for DataMed due to incomplete metadata and the complexity of data discovery.


Biomedical data poses distinct problems for search when compared to websites or publications. Making data available is not enough to facilitate biomedical data discovery: new retrieval techniques and user interfaces are necessary for dataset exploration. Consistent, complete, and high-quality metadata are vital to enable this process.


While available data and researchers' information needs are complex and heterogeneous, a successful DDI must meet those needs and fit into the processes of biomedical researchers. Research directions include formalizing researchers' information needs, standardizing overviews of data to facilitate relevance judgments, implementing user interfaces for concept-based searching, and developing evaluation methods for open-ended discovery systems such as DDIs.


data discovery; information retrieval; metadata; usability; user needs


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