Appraisal of: Golder S, Loke Y. The performance of adverse effects search filters in MEDLINE and EMBASE. Health Info Libr J 2012;29(2):141-151.

Short description: 
The aim of the study was to measure the sensitivity of published adverse effects search filters in MEDLINE and Embase. The performance of all the individual search terms included in the filters was also measured. The results showed that 93% of the MEDLINE records and 97% of the Embase records could be retrieved by using adverse effects search filters. High sensitivity could also be achieved by using individual adverse effects ‘floating’ subheadings such as Adverse Drug Reaction (83%) or Side Effect (83%) in Embase. In MEDLINE the highest sensitivity using individual adverse effects ‘floating’ subheadings was achieved by using Adverse Effects (51%). Some free text terms for adverse effects in the title and / or abstract were also found to be useful, but the authors recommend applying these terms only concurrently with other search terms such as subheadings. The sensitivity of the few existing indexing terms (MeSH and Emtree) for adverse effects was shown to be low.
Limitations stated by the author(s): 
The main limitation of this study was that the precision of search terms and search filters was not measured. The most sensitive search filters or search terms might be those with the lowest precision and might therefore result in very low precision (that is, the retrieval of very large numbers of irrelevant records). Further research that measures the precision of these search terms and filters is required in order to determine the full value and effectiveness of using adverse effects terms in search strategies. Caution should be applied when using the results of this study, especially as some of the search terms with relatively high sensitivity appear to have only a vague connection to adverse effects (such as ‘Therapeutic Use’ and ‘Pharmacology’).
Limitations stated by the reviewer(s): 
No additional limitations detected by the reviewer
Study Type: 
Single study
Related Chapters: 

Comments from the authors:

This publication is related to Su Golder’s PhD Thesis “Evaluating and Optimising the Retrieval of Research Evidence for Systematic Reviews of Adverse Drug Effects and Adverse Drug Reactions” from 2013. The thesis is available from