One of the key skills you might need to develop is that of searching the healthcare databases. Searching for information is a key element of the service that users may approach you about when they need help, whether it is using fairly general resources, or in a more focused way to gather evidence from those resources specifically aimed at healthcare professionals.

What do users need?

Evidence searching is a skill that needs to be learned and then mastered, so that its fundamentals can be passed on to users.

In this, you will want to approach it in a systematic way, breaking the searching process into individual stages that can be taught to users one at a time.

1. Formulate the Search Question – use a mnemonic process, such as PICO, to formulate the search question:
Is acupuncture a more effective method of stopping smoking, compared to nicotine replacement therapy?

2. Create the Search Strategy – once you have devised the question and worked out what you want to look for, think up alternative terms and synonyms as part of the search strategy.


3. Run the Search – initially run it in a single database to test, and iron out any issues that may come up, before running it in the databases that have been identified as relevant.

Finding the Evidence 1 – Using PICO to formulate a search question
Finding the evidence 2 – Turning search terms into a search strategy
Finding the evidence 3 – Turning your search strategy into results: PubMed demonstration

Source: Finding the Evidence: A How-To Guide – Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine

What do I need to know?

The NHS in England provides access to a range of resources that can be searched, most of which are accessible through the NHS Knowledge & Library Hub. This provides access to lots of different resources through a single search interface. Much of the content is procured nationally, but items that are purchased locally, either by region or individual trust, can also be added. Access to the Knowledge & Library Hub is via NHS OpenAthens. The NHS in Scotland has a similar service called the Knowledge Network, while the NHS Wales Library Service provides access via its website to the resources subscribed to there. which are also accessible using an NHS OpenAthens account. Users can register for an OpenAthens account by filling in an online registration form:

Students doing healthcare courses are eligible for NHS OpenAthens accounts that are set up by their college or university, which will allow them to access the NHS’s nationally procured content, which is in addition to the access that they have to their own university’s e-resources through the library.

OpenAthens access is also provided by independent organisations that work in the health sector – one such group of these organisations is the Consortium of Health Independent Libraries London (CHILL):

  • Cancer Research UK
  • College of Optometrists
  • Marie Curie Cancer Care
  • National Autistic Society
  • NICE
  • Royal College of Nursing
  • Royal College of Occupational Therapists
  • Royal College of Surgeons of England
  • UK Health Forum
  • Anna Freud Centre at the Kantor Centre of Excellence
  • British Dental Association
  • British Medical Association
  • British Library – Science, Technology & Medicine Reference Service
  • Chartered Society of Physiotherapy
  • Institute of Psychoanalysis
  • Royal College of General Practitioners
  • Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
  • Royal College of Psychiatrists
  • Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
  • Royal Pharmaceutical Society
  • The King’s Fund
  • Wellcome Trust
  • Macmillan Cancer Support
  • Royal College of Physicians

Where can I learn more?

There are many training resources that will help you learn more, not forgetting the people you work with. For example:

  • Database providers – they regularly advertise training on searching their products using the native interface.
  • Health Education England have produced resources and guidance, particularly on the use of the Knowledge & Library Hub, which includes videos and user guides
  • Other contacts:
  • London searchers and trainers network – London Searching and Training Forum is a group formed of library staff with interests in information skills training for healthcare staff, meeting to share knowledge and best practice. It meets on a quarterly basis. For further information contact the group’s chair, Adam Tocock London-based library staff in the following types of role are welcome to attend LSTF meetings as-and-when they are able, and to subscribe to the mailing list:
    • Librarians or information professionals with either training responsibility, or clinical/outreach roles
    • Librarians in HE/NHS and professional organisations
    • Anyone involved with searching or training at their sites
    • Those who market library services
  • Your local contacts will point you in the direction of other local networks

Who can I contact?

Ask your local colleagues for guidance. There may also be local trainers who can help you. Again, check with your local contacts.

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