Skip to main content

Table 3 Finding research evidence about a problem

From: SUPPORT Tools for evidence-informed health Policymaking (STP) 4: Using research evidence to clarify a problem

While much of the task of problem clarification involves finding and using local evidence (the subject of Article 11 in this series), published administrative database studies and community surveys can provide insights about comparisons [9]. Qualitative studies can also provide insight into alternative framings for a problem.
The first set of steps involved in finding such studies includes:
• Drawing up a list of words or phrases that capture the problem (e.g. medication error, scope of practice), synonyms for each problem and factor (e.g. drug near-misses, professional regulation), and alternative spellings for each synonym (e.g. medication, medications)
• Deciding whether systematic reviews (the subject of Article 7) or single research studies are the focus of the search [8], and
• Providing any additional details that limit the search (e.g. children, adults)
The second set of steps includes:
• Choosing those words and phrases that would all need to be present in order for the article to be identified (e.g. medication error, systematic review, and children), connecting them with ‘and’, and putting them in brackets, and
• Choosing those words and phrases for which only one would need to be present (e.g. medical error and its synonyms), connecting them with ‘or’, and putting them in brackets, and
• Connecting both sets of brackets using ‘and’
The third set of steps includes:
• Using the Internet to access the health-related database, PubMed. This database contains a ‘hedge’ (i.e. a validated search strategy or filter) for the types of studies of interest here [12]
• Clicking on ‘special queries’ in the left task bar
• Clicking on ‘health services research’ queries
• Entering the words and phrases, as well as the Boolean operators (‘and’/‘or’) in the search field, and
• Clicking ‘process assessment’ or ‘outcomes assessment’ for administrative database studies and ‘qualitative research’ for qualitative studies
This approach increases the chances that the returned citations will be of the appropriate study type, though many other types of studies may be retrieved as well.