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Health Disparities: Literature Search Tips

Effective and efficient search techniques

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Try the PICO Framework for Searching

The PICO Framework (Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome) is often used in Nursing and Medicine to structure search strategies.  Public Health also finds it useful. 

An example of a Public Health question structured with PICO in mind is: 

In African American men (population), are community-based educational programs (intervention) effective (comparison--often compared to "no intervention" in studies) for the prevention of heart disease (outcome)?

While you will need to eventually address as many PICO (Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome (Time) components as possible, trying to search for all of them at the same time is seldom successful.  This method generally results in getting zero results--despite the fact that evidence that answers the question does likely exist.  To avoid the dreaded "0 Results,"

1. Search only one main concept at a time.

  • Brainstorm as many possible terms or synonyms for each of your components before beginning searching. 
  • Once you have your lists, begin searching for CINAHL Subject Headings or MeSH that match your terms.  This will save you time in the end because when you find something like "Diabetes" as a Subject Heading, you're avoiding finding studies where diabetes is randomly mentioned as a tangential point rather than being a main topic of the article.  You won't always find Headings for everything, and that's ok
  • Search each PICO concept one at a time so that your searches will be saved in the search history where you can combine them.  Also, by doing this, if you find that one of your terms/Headings isn't working or you simply want to try another one, you can eliminate and add concepts without completely reconstructing your search repeatedly.  For more in this, see the videos from the Nursing Library Channel below.

2. Combine two main concepts. 

3. Begin to apply your limiters.  Start by only limiting by publication date and preferred language.   Too many limiters can also result in the dreaded "0 Results."

Videos for PICO Searching

These videos were originally designed for Nursing, but are applicable to Public Health PICO-style searching too!

How Strong is my Evidence?

Ever wonder which types of research:  a randomized controlled trial, expert opinion, an observational study or a systematic review were considered stronger evidence?  Check out this Levels of Evidence video, originally designed for Nursing but extremely useful for Public Health, to find out!