Searching for pediatric articles on Medline

Steve Simon


A recent publication

examines search strategies for articles relevant to geriatric medicine, adult medicine, pediatric medicine, neonatal medicine, and obstetrics. For studies of pediatric medicine, the most sensitive search used the following terms:

which had a sensitivity of 98% and a specificity of 81%. The colon after “child” tells MedLine to search for any word beginning with “child.” This allows you to search for either “child” or “children”. The .mp is a PubMed tag for multiple posting. It searches for terms that appear in the title, abstract, or subject heading. The search that maximized specificity was

which had a specificity of 97% but a sensitivity of only 58%. The .tw is a PubMed tag for text word, and will search for a word appearing in a variety of locations.

Includes all words and numbers in the title, abstract, other abstract, MeSH terms, MeSH Subheadings, Publication Types, Substance Names, Personal Name as Subject, MEDLINE Secondary Source, and Other Terms (see Other Term [OT] above) typically non-MeSH subject terms (keywords), including NASA Space Flight Mission, assigned by an organization other than NLM.

The best compromise was

which produced 89% sensitivity and 87% specificity. The .sh is a PubMed tag for MeSH subheading. MeSH is an acronym for Medical Subject Heading and represents an effort by the coders at PubMed to classify the medical specialties associated with the article being listed.

NLM’s Medical Subject Headings controlled vocabulary of biomedical terms that is used to describe the subject of each journal article in MEDLINE. MeSH contains more than 23,000 terms and is updated annually to reflect changes in medicine and medical terminology. MeSH terms are arranged hierarchically by subject categories with more specific terms arranged beneath broader terms. PubMed allows you to view this hierarchy and select terms for searching in the MeSH Database. Skilled subject analysts examine journal articles and assign to each the most specific MeSH terms applicable - typically ten to twelve. Applying the MeSH vocabulary ensures that articles are uniformly indexed by subject, whatever the author’s words.

What does sensitivity and specificity mean in the context of a Medline search. The JMIR article explains it thusly:

Sensitivity for a given age-specific topic is defined as the proportion of relevant articles (ie, articles with the desired age-specific content) that are retrieved; specificity is the proportion of nonrelevant articles (ie, articles that are outside the desired age-specific content) not retrieved.