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How to build the perfect search strategy: Local databases


March, 2019

Literature monitoring

Depending on the client and substance, literature monitoring requires you to screen local databases. Each database differs from one another, and each has its own quirks and qualities. We can’t make a unified list of recommendations. But we can list some workarounds for common challenges.

The biggest challenge of local database searches is not the local language. It’s making sure they include all relevant findings.

We’ve already got a closer look at building your search strategy in PubMed. So how much different can it be in any other database?

First of all, there are so many local databases that are drastically distinct from one another. From span to language, there are many things to look out for. But they often have certain characteristics in common. And there are specific challenges that come with working in local databases. That’s why we’ll first list, then elaborate on them in this article.

I. Get to know your local database

In order to plan and conduct a high-quality systematic search, you have to know both the benefits and the limits of the database you’re working in. So make sure to check:

The geographic area it covers

Regulatory authorities require systematic reviews of literature published in all countries where a product has a marketing authorization. So one of the first questions you should answer is what area does it cover. Is it narrowed to a specific country, region or territory?

The answer to this question defines the languages you should use in a search, the scope of its results and the overall impact on the healthcare system.

The scientific area, too

Depending on the database, you might not have access to all relevant articles related to the substance or medicinal product you’re monitoring. The database could be narrowed to a specific medicinal discipline, or it could be broader than that.

Some collect content from a narrow niche, while others may include papers from various other scientific areas, including the humanities, arts or technical sciences. While there might be some information related to a substance’s safety profile, it is highly unlikely this information would be usable.

Overlap with other databases

The bigger array of information you gather, the better. Using two databases can result in an overlap of information that can slow and even hinder your safety monitoring. It can only lead to unnecessary duplicates without adding anything to the process.

Duplicates can be a wrench in your workflow. It’s easy to lose time on them, and they do not look well on audits. That’s why Sympto® has its own processes that identify and warn you of any possible duplicates you’ve entered. It calculates the possibility that a case you entered is a duplicate.

User interface

Appraise the search engines functions. Is it intuitive and easy to use? The flow of your monitoring will largely depend on this. Some steps in the search process could either help or hinder you, depending on your query and substances you cover.


Some bases like MEDLINE are open to the wider public. Some require specific conditions before using them. Access to its articles or even abstracts can vary depending on them. Make sure if it grants you access to the full body of text, the title and an abstract, or just the title.

Searching through local databases has its quirks. In the next few steps we’ll take a look at the main differences and how to approach them.

II. Differences in research

Different databases require specialized approaches. We’ve already established that there can be no universally prescribed workflow for them.

However, there are some common pressure-points in the majority of the local databases you can use. From filtering to linguistic quirks, let’s take a closer look at some patterns that we can take advantage of:

Period workaround

Search engines such as PubMed let you search a time period determined exactly to a day. However, some engines are not as accurate in their searches as they don’t let you narrow the period punctually. They offer monthly searches, or in a more complicated scenario, annual searches.

This complicates weekly searches for regular clients. You have to be punctual. So how can you easily pin down articles that appeared in a week, if you can’t narrow your search?

Keep a weekly updated checklist for each article. This gives you a clear and easy overview of articles that surface from week to week, and you can immediately identify a new addition. Once you notice a change of number in your checklist, you’ll know that there is a new article and find it without any headaches.

However, you have to be careful. Relying on the number of articles can turn into a slippery slope if the database you are using has the option of retrieving published articles. And we deal with this problem in our next workaround.

Withdrawal workaround

Checking if there are any new articles on your regular weekly or monthly screening could sound easy if you keep a checklist as we suggested. Just check if there was an increase in number from last week, and you’re done.

However, a number of databases tend to withdraw articles. Not just local databases, even MEDLINE does it. Check if this is the practice of your local database. If it is, screening by numbers on your checklists is not an acceptable solution.

To counter possible mistakes or overlooks, keep the title and a detailed description of the study on your checklists. This way, you’ll recognize any withdrawals or adjustions and pinpoint them in no time. In the end, it’s best to read through the articles to recognize changes in available information.

Subject workaround

Some search engines will give you hits related to biosciences and medicine. However, many other databases include literature from other scientific areas. They could cover everything from theological to technical sciences. In the majority of cases, these types of articles contain next to nothing relevant for the substance’s safety profile. However, you can’t completely sign them off.

It’s best to recognize the source for what it is, keep the information you find with a grain of salt, yet read through it to be completely sure there is not even a small particle of information you could use. Sometimes, they could surprise you with a valuable reference.

More advice on literature monitoring?

No matter the difference between one database and the next, literature monitoring always follows the same bottom line. Take only what is relevant. Communicate with your colleagues for feedback. Research. Stay informed.

And after finishing your search, it’s time to weigh and make sense of the material. Read up on recognizing relevant literature in our previous article.

Want to know more about this topic or about Sympto®?

We invite you to connect with us or download our study checklists to make your literature screening easier.

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