Where and how to search for information on the effectiveness of public health interventions - a case study for prevention of cardiovascular disease

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes


Background: This case study documents the experience of searching for information on the effectiveness of population-level multi-factor interventions for the prevention of cardiovascular disease (CVD) to inform guidance from NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). Objectives: To compare suitability of different databases for searches on a medical public health topic and performance of sensitive versus specific strategies. Methods: A sensitive search strategy identified 34 CVD programmes (reference standard) and sensitivity, precision and number needed to read (NNTR) were compared across seven databases. Two alternative strategies were developed to improve precision while minimising the impact on sensitivity. Results: MEDLINE alone retrieved 91% (31/34) relevant programme citations. Four databases (MEDLINE, CENTRAL, ASSIA and PsycINFO) were required to identify all 34 programmes. In the alternative strategies, greater use of MeSH rather than text and focus on terms directed at population-level interventions resulted in a more precise search on MEDLINE. Conclusions: MEDLINE alone provided a better yield than anticipated. Additional databases improved sensitivity by 9% but to the detriment of precision. Retrospective searching would provide additional insight into the performance of both databases and strategies. How the medical nature of this public health topic affected yield across databases also requires further investigation.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-313
Number of pages11
JournalHealth information and libraries journal
Issue number4
Early online date19 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2014


  • Bibliographic, Database searching, Databases, Information storage and retrieval, MEDLINE, Public health, Search strategies