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Table of Contents
BMJ 1997;315:180-183 (19 July)
Education and debate
How to read a paper: The Medline database
Trisha Greenhalgh, senior lecturer a
for Evidence-Based Practice and Policy, Department of Primary Care and Population Sciences, University College London MedicalSchool/Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, Whittington Hospital, London N19 5NF, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Top Introduction In 1928, in his introduction to Sceptical Essays, Bertrand Russell wrote: "The The Medline database extent to which beliefs are based on evidence is very much less than believers Appendix 1: Evidence based... suppose." Medical beliefs, and the clinical practices that are based on them, are a Appendix 2: Maximally sensitive... References case inpoint. Debate continues as to whether scientific evidence alone is sufficient to guide medical decision making, but few doctors would dispute that finding and understanding relevant research based evidence is increasingly necessary in clinical practice. This article is the first in a series that introduces the non-expert to searching the medical literature and assessing the value of medicalarticles.
The Medline database
Over 10 million medical articles exist on library shelves. About a third are indexed in the huge Medline database, compiled by the National Library of Medicine of the United States. The Medline database is exactly the same, whichever company is selling it, but the commands differ according to the software. Vendors of Medline online and on CD ROM include OvidTechnologies (ovid) and Silver Platter Information (WinSPIRS).
Top Introduction The Medline database Appendix 1: Evidence based... Appendix 2: Maximally sensitive... References
Articles can be traced in two ways: by any word listed on the database, including words in the title, abstract, authors' names, and the institution where the research was done; and by a restricted thesaurus of medical titles,known as medical subject heading (MeSH) terms. To illustrate how Medline works, I have worked through some common problems in searching. The scenarios have been drawn up using ovid software.
bmj.com Greenhalgh 315 (7101): 180
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Problem 1: You are trying to find a known paper Solution: Search the databaseby field suffix (title, author, journal, institution, etc) or by textwords. First, get into the part of the database which covers the approximate year of the paper's publication. If you are already in the main Medline menu, select "database" (Alt-B). If you know the approximate title of the paper and perhaps the journal where it was published, you can use the title and journal search keys or (thisis quicker) the .ti and .jn field suffixes. The box shows some other useful field suffixes.
Useful search field suffixes (ovid) Syntax Meaning .ab .au .jn .me .ti .tw .ui .yr Example
Word in abstract epilepsy.ab Author smith-r.au Journal lancet.jn Single word, wherever it may appear as a MeSH term ulcer.me Word in title epilepy.ti Word in title or abstract epilepsy.tw Unique identifier91574637.ui Year of publication 87.yr
Thus, to find a paper called something like "Confidentiality and patients' casenotes," which you remember seeing in the British Journal of General Practice a couple of years ago,1 type the following sequence: 1. confidentiality.ti 2. british journal of general practice.jn 3. 1 and 2
Summary points Not all medical articles are indexed on Medline, and many...