Although there are many ways of searching for information on the Internet, for health related publications in the peer-reviewer literature, we recommend that you start with PubMed.
The PubMed search facility provides access to over 18 million citations for biomedical articles back to the 1950s. It is provided free by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and includes abstracts, links to full text articles and other related resources. A guide to searching PubMed for abstracts of the published literature in the health field is available here, and there is an excellent video guide here, which explains the use of MeSH terms - Medical Subject Headings. The importance of these is emphasised in this short introduction to MeSH terms by Terry Harrison.
Evidence searches using PubMed.
We recommend that you start by using the Clinical Queries (Studies) facility and then to search via the above method. You will find much more detail about accessing, appraising and applying evidence in the Evidence Based Practice module in Peoples-uni.
Most of you will have used Google to search for information. However, many people do not use all of the functions of Google effectively. This website will help you to choose search terms, exclude or combine terms, and determine whether you should used phrase searching. There is also information on how to use the advanced search function of Google.
Google Scholar (Google for academic articles)
You can start here to learn how to use Google Scholar.
Limitations of Google/Google Scholar
A public health professional should not rely on Google for all their evidence based information. This article compares Google Scholar with Pubmed. The baseline is Google scholar does not include use 'MESH' headings and therefore it is wise to use databases like PubMed (see below).
There are specific databases devoted to providing guided access to the health and healthcare evidence base. Each search engine you use will likely include a user guide. It is important to refer to these guides as databases often work in different ways.
Access to Research Initiative (HINARI) provides free or very low cost online access to the major journals in biomedical and related social sciences to local, not-for-profit institutions in developing countries
A searchable database of high quality reviews of the evidence for public health and healthcare interventions. The user guides section on this webpage has quick reference guides in different languages - they are very useful for first time user and only 6-8 pages long. They also include how to do quick and advanced searches in Cochrane. There are some additional resources about using the Cochrane databases here (free, but you will have to register to access them).
Free online access to systematic reviews in the areas of education, criminal justice and social welfare
TRIP is a collection of more than 75 databases, including Clinical Knowledge, Bandolier, Best Bets, etc. for access to evidence-based material as well as articles from peer-reviewed journals. Note: can filter by both methodological and clinical types. TRIP Database is a specialist search facility that searches clinical evidence resources globally. TRIP is quite different to search than Pubmed: it only accesses evidence (clinical studies). In its search results it includes a link called 'Developing world'. If you register with TRIP Database (registration is free via the Registration link at the top of the main TRIP Database page) and you believe the article listed is suitable for a 'developing world' setting, you should login (top of page) then click on the link. (Note: if two or more people click on this link, the article is then deemed suitable for a Developing world context and this article and others similarly tagged will form part of a sub-set of data in TRIP. Users will be able to search TRIP and then (via a tick box at the bottom of the ‘Filter your search’ box) select only those articles in this subset.
Health Sciences Online
Health Sciences Online - this will search on the 'pubmed' database and health sciences library - I recommend entering your search terms in the 'all' box so that you use both databases
MORE… (resources that provide further information on this topic)
View information on health topics on the WHO website
Evidence based information on subjects related to child health are available on UNICEF’s website
The Cochrane Public Health Review Group
The Cochrane Public Health Review Group has developed an online handbook which outlines the processes for searching for information systematically. This is a rather long handbook, but we recommend that you go to Unit 6, which is on Page 29 of the file. This can be useful for conducting systematic reviews but also when conducting literature reviews or grant applications where you need to be thorough in your search for information. While you may not have access to all of the databases mentioned in this document, the principles can be applied to most publicly available databases.
For more on our academic study and writing skills resources library and courses, click here (requires login).