“Life moves pretty fast.” 

Ferris Bueller made that pronouncement popular back in 1986. But today, in the world of R&D-intensive sciences, data is what’s moving quickly. It is abundant, ever increasing, essential, and constantly updating all around us. Identifying information in a timely fashion is a critical need, and there are many curated resources out there. How are people using them, how could they be improved, and what can we learn from their similarities and differences? In this series, we’ll look at some popular databases and strategies for how to use them effectively.

There are many different consumers of biomedical information, with varying immediate needs and role perspectives. Looking at two of these communities, we can see how information seeking behaviors and targeted resources differ.

Information Searching Behaviors

recent survey involving clinicians at the Mayo Clinic asked practicing clinicians and trainees (residents, fellows, and medical students) about their information searching behaviors. The respondents who reported using the literature services performed searches for over half of all patient interactions, with the vast majority of these occurring before or within three hours of the visit. The most frequently searched domains were therapy, diagnosis, and prognosis.

The resources available to these clinicians on the electronic library home page were PubMed, Google Scholar, and UptoDate. UptoDate is a peer-reviewed point-of-care decision support system which synthesizes information from journal articles, drug sources, and medical experts.  It is comparable to Dynamed and BMJ Best Practice. UptoDate was the preferred resource for all respondents, and overwhelmingly preferred by the medical students and physicians in training. Those seeking original research were more experienced clinicians.

There is a known gap between medical research and applied clinical practice. Health care information professionals attempt to bridge this gap via systematic reviews requiring complex, transparent, and repeatable search strategies. In a survey of this population, distributed via professional association email lists, it took on average 60 minutes to formulate a search strategy; 4 hours for an entire search task; and a median of 175 results were reviewed per session. In comparison, the average PubMed session lasts 5 minutes, and most results reviewed are found on the first page. Expert searches supporting systematic literature reviews rely on multiple databases, multiple query lines combined with Boolean operators, and often consist of hundreds of keywords and ontology terms.

Unlike the clinicians discussed above, scientific literature is the main target. The information professionals most frequently searched Medline/ PubMed, the Cochrane Library, EMBASE and CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature). The Cochrane Library is itself a collection of evidence- based systematic reviews and controlled trials. The most commonly used taxonomies to query these resources were:

  • MeSH (Medline)
  • Emtree (EMBASE)
  • CINAHL headings

Most respondents used previous search strategies or templates at least some of the time, and also reported routinely sharing their own strategies within their work group or organizations. The ability to save, share, and export search strategies was a valued feature. It is common for search strategies to be included in published systematic review papers.

For evaluating results, most searchers reported starting with the first or most relevant item returned. No respondent selected “the most trustworthy source” [2]. This may reflect the database sources most frequently chosen, which are already curated for trusted content; the authors didn’t discuss this point.


Through this series, we have looked at a range of information needs. The goals and strategies of those involved in clinical trials, potential drug-drug interaction research, clinical care, or systematic reviews vary widely. There are multiple resources, both public and private, designed to provide intelligent access to the most timely and relevant data. Life is moving fast. Biomedical sciences are committed to identifying and refining tools and best practices to advance our knowledge, in the 21st century and beyond.

Interested in learning about other data sources and how they’re used? Check out:

Did you know? RightFind® Navigate unifies data sources within an open integration ecosystem to maximize the value of your organization’s digital information assets and enables knowledge workers with contextualized discovery to relevant information. Learn more here.


Author: Elizabeth Wolf

Elizabeth S. Wolf is Data Quality Manager at Copyright Clearance Center. She earned her MLS at University of Maryland and studied health science reference under Winifred Sewell. Elizabeth is a member of the team responsible for the CCC Managed Data-Works Management System. She also provides User Acceptance Testing (UAT) for RightFind Navigate, an aggregated search platform enhanced by machine learning and contextualized discovery. Elizabeth leads the Expert Literature Search Service, including pharmacovigilance searching. She is a member of Metadata 2020, has served on two NISO working groups, and has extensive experience with ontologies.
Don't Miss a Post

Subscribe to the award-winning
Velocity of Content blog