ABSTRACT: When is a search not a search? A comparison of searching the AMED complementary health database via EBSCOhost, OVID and DIALOG.
The researchers involved in this study work at Exeter Health library and at the Complementary Medicine Unit, Peninsula School of Medicine and Dentistry (PCMD). Within this collaborative environment it is possible to access the electronic resources of three institutions. This includes access to AMED and other databases using different interfaces.
The aim of this study was to investigate whether searching different interfaces to the AMED allied health and complementary medicine database produced the same results when using identical search terms.
The following Internet-based AMED interfaces were searched: DIALOG DataStar; EBSCOhost and OVID SP_UI01.00.02. Search results from all three databases were saved in an endnote database to facilitate analysis. A checklist was also compiled comparing interface features.
In our initial search, DIALOG returned 29 hits, OVID 14 and Ebsco 8. If we assume that DIALOG returned 100% of potential hits, OVID initially returned only 48% of hits and EBSCOhost only 28%. In our search, a researcher using the Ebsco interface to carry out a simple search on AMED would miss over 70% of possible search hits. Subsequent EBSCOhost searches on different subjects failed to find between 21 and 86% of the hits retrieved using the same keywords via DIALOG DataStar. In two cases, the simple EBSCOhost search failed to find any of the results found via DIALOG DataStar.
Depending on the interface, the number of hits retrieved from the same database with the same simple search can vary dramatically. Some simple searches fail to retrieve a substantial percentage of citations. This may result in an uninformed literature review, research funding application or treatment intervention. In addition to ensuring that keywords, spelling and medical subject headings (MeSH) accurately reflect the nature of the search, database users should include wildcards and truncation and adapt their search strategy substantially to retrieve the maximum number of appropriate citations possible. Librarians should be aware of these differences when making purchasing decisions, carrying out literature searches and planning user education.