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A population search filter for hard-to-reach populations increased search efficiency for a systematic review

Cooper, C., Levay, P., Lorenc, T. & Craig, G. M. (2014). A population search filter for hard-to-reach populations increased search efficiency for a systematic review. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 67(5), pp. 554-559. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2013.12.006


Objective: This paper discusses how hard-to-reach population groups were conceptualised into a search filter. The objectives of this paper are: 1) to discuss how the authors designed a multi-stranded population search filter and, 2) to retrospectively test the effectiveness of the search filter in capturing all relevant populations (e.g. homeless people, immigrants, substance misusers) in a public health systematic review.

Study design and setting: Systematic and retrospective analysis via case-study. Retrospective analysis of the search filter was conducted by comparing the MEDLINE search results retrieved without using the search filter against those retrieved with the search filter. 5465 additional results from the unfiltered search were screened to the same criteria as the filtered search.

Results: No additional populations were identified in the unfiltered sample. The search filter reduced the volume of MEDLINE hits to screen by 64% with no impact on inclusion of populations.

Conclusion: The results demonstrate the effectiveness of the filter in capturing all relevant UK populations for the review. This suggests that well planned search filters can be written for reviews which analyse imprecisely defined population groups. This filter could be used in topic areas of associated co-morbidities, for rapid clinical searches, or for investigating hard-to-reach populations.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, Volume 67, Issue 5, May 2014, Pages 554–559,
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HA Statistics
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences
[thumbnail of Cooper et al final version popn search filter hard to reach.pdf]
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