Jon Brassey writes:
I may have missed something, but none of these alternate interfaces allow easy searching of PubMed. Some are wonders of programming, some allow some very neat tricks but none make searching of PubMed easy.
That’s a fair criticism, I suppose. I think that although PubMed has come a very long way in developing tools that make searching the NLM’s databases easier for medical librarians, clinicians and consumers, it still takes some knowledge and skill to perform a really useful search of the primary literature.
I suppose my biggest issue with PubMed is that doing a search of statins returns 18,491 results. Unpicking that a bit:
* Most research shows search engine users finish looking after 3 pages of results.
* From our own experience with TRIP we also know that most users only use single search terms (e.g. asthma, hypertension).
So what I’m saying is that statins is a realistic search term and that suggests that 18,431 (18491-60) results are superfluous.
Therefore, the two challenges to me are:
* Return fewer results in the first place
* Allow users to easily qualify their searches.
Let’s bring Jon’s challenges to Healia’s PubMed/MEDLINE Search. It isn’t my favorite, but if Jon uses it to search for statins, he’ll see that, at the time of this writing, only 7,731 results are returned
PubMed, on the other hand, translates statins into “hydroxymethylglutaryl-coa reductase inhibitors”[MeSH Terms] OR “hydroxymethylglutaryl-coa reductase inhibitors”[Pharmacological Action] OR statins[Text Word].
After all, if we search PubMed for “statins” as a string, we get only 7,990 results. and that there are a number of tools for “qualifying” the search right there on the search results page.
You can adjust for date:
You can filter for review articles or for English language articles only:
You can filter by patient demographics:
Healia even recognizes that we’re searching about a class of drugs and gives us tabs so we can filter by Dosage, Usage, or Side Effects:
So let us assume that Jon’s hypothetical user wants to see English-language review articles about the dosage of statins from only the last 5 years. That’s only twelve results. I think this passes Jon’s test.
With that out of the way, I need to add:
Criticizing PubMed for returning too many search results for a query as inadequate as “statins” seems unreasonable to me. A major part of what makes PubMed an amazing tool is its complexity. I believe and hope that new tools will continue to be developed that make the data useful to various kinds of users in various new ways, but I don’t expect that getting exactly what one wants from the primary literature will ever truly be “easy.”