Eysenbach, Tuische and Diepgen’s Evaluation of Web Searching for Identifying Unpublished Studies for Systematic Reviews: An Innovative Study Which is Still Relevant Today
AbstractA Review of:
Eysenbach, G., Tuische, J. & Diepgen, T.L. (2001). Evaluation of the usefulness of Internet searches to identify unpublished clinical trials for systematic reviews. Medical Informatics and the Internet in Medicine, 26(3), 203-218. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14639230110075459
Objective – To consider whether web searching is a useful method for identifying unpublished studies for inclusion in systematic reviews.
Design – Retrospective web searches using the AltaVista search engine were conducted to identify unpublished studies – specifically, clinical trials – for systematic reviews which did not use a web search engine.
Setting – The Department of Clinical Social Medicine, University of Heidelberg, Germany.
Subjects – n/a
Methods – Pilot testing of 11 web search engines was carried out to determine which could handle complex search queries. Pre-specified search requirements included the ability to handle Boolean and proximity operators, and truncation searching. A total of seven Cochrane systematic reviews were randomly selected from the Cochrane Library Issue 2, 1998, and their bibliographic database search strategies were adapted for the web search engine, AltaVista. Each adaptation combined search terms for the intervention, problem, and study type in the systematic review. Hints to planned, ongoing, or unpublished studies retrieved by the search engine, which were not cited in the systematic reviews, were followed up by visiting websites and contacting authors for further details when required. The authors of the systematic reviews were then contacted and asked to comment on the potential relevance of the identified studies.
Main Results – Hints to 14 unpublished and potentially relevant studies, corresponding to 4 of the 7 randomly selected Cochrane systematic reviews, were identified. Out of the 14 studies, 2 were considered irrelevant to the corresponding systematic review by the systematic review authors. The relevance of a further three studies could not be clearly ascertained. This left nine studies which were considered relevant to a systematic review. In addition to this main finding, the pilot study to identify suitable search engines found that AltaVista was the only search engine able to handle the complex searches required to search for unpublished studies.
Conclusion –Web searches using a search engine have the potential to identify studies for systematic reviews. Web search engines have considerable limitations which impede the identification of studies.
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