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Bethel Libraries

Physician Assistant: Search Tips and Terminology

A guide to the Physician Assistant resources available at Bethel University Library

Search Strategies

Below are some common techniques used when searching research databases, and how they can help you find the information you're looking for.

Search with AND

How AND works:
And tells the search tool that you are using to find articles that use both/all of your search terms and to ignore articles that might use just one of your search terms

Searching for "Heart Disease AND smoking" will retrieve articles that discuss heart disease as it relates to smoking, but will not retrieve articles on heart disease that focus on other factors

Search with OR

How OR works:
Searches with OR will tell the search tool to find articles that use either of your search terms, even if an article contains one term and not the other(s)

You might search for similar keywords and use OR between them. Searching for "Venous Thrombosis OR Deep Vein Thrombosis" will find articles that use either term

Search using quotation marks

How quotation marks work:
Placing a phrase in quotation marks will tell the search tool that you want to find an exact match for that phrase, as opposed to articles that match just part of the phrase.

Searching for "Evidence Based Medicine" in quotation marks, as shown, will prioritize results that have that exact phrase over articles that just have part of the phrase, such as "medicine" only.

Use medical terminology

How to incorporate medical terms into your searches:
When searching in databases that have mostly or exclusively medical and health literature, scientific terminology will help you get more precise results.

Searching for Myocarditis can be more effective than searching for "heart inflammation."

Using "Subject" terms

Subject Terms are a more precise way to search for articles, and knowing how to search by Subject can help you find the most relevant information for your topic.   Knowing what subject to search for is difficult, though.

Locating Subject Terms

One way to locate subject terms is to look closely at an article you've already found.  For example, here's a link to a Systematic Review on Stroke Rehabilitation from the Cochrane Database. If you follow the link, you'll see the publication details, followed by the  "abstract" or summary of the article. Below that are Medical Subject Headings used the describe the article, shown here:

Medical Subject Headings
(Click Image to View Full Size)

Each one of those headings is a link that can be clicked on to read other articles that use the same subject terms.

Why Subjects?

Subjects are standardized, so every article on a given subject should be assigned the same term. A keyword search will generally be less accurate than a subject search.

Terminology: The Clinical Question

Clinical research questions are often framed using the abbreviation PICO. The elements of a PICO question are:

What is the Patient population being studied?.

What is the Interventionbeing studied or recommended?

What Comparison Interventions exist?

What is the desired patient outcome?

Thinking about your clinical research question in terms of its PICO components can be a helpful way to begin the literature review process.

Terminology: Evidence-Based Medicine Resources

Evidence-based medicine techniques can be carried out using a variety of sources. Some types of sources are defined below:

Randomized Controlled Trial
In this type of study, participants are randomly assigned to either the experiment group or the control (placebo) group. The results of these trials are published as journal articles.

Double-Blind Study
In a double blind study, neither the researcher nor the subjects know which participants are in the control group and which are in the experiment group. The results of these studies are published as journal articles.*

Systematic Review
A methodical approach to analyzing and combining “the results of numerous studies on a particular question that is based on the best available evidence” (Huston, 2012). The types of evidence desribed above often serve as the foundation for Systematic Reviews.

When research studies have similar enough methodologies, results can be mathematically combined, resulting in a meta-analysis (Huston, 2012)

Reminder: The Cochrane Database of systematic reviews is a great resources for this research!  Clinical guidelines can be found in DynaMed. Check the Finding Articles tab for further descriptions of these resources.

* A double-blind, randomized controlled trial is considered the "gold standard" in medical research. It helps to ensure that the results are free from bias from either the experimenter or the participants.

Huston, P. (2012). Evidence-based medicine. In S. Lock, J. Last, & G. Dunea (Ed.). Oxford Companion to Medicine (3rd ed.) Oxford: Oxford University Press