Computer Searching of the Medical Literature
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Although clinicians can now search the medical literature electronically from the clinic, bedside, or operating suite, little is known about the performance characteristics of online information services. Fourteen access routes to the MEDLINE database of journal literature were compared for retrieval quantity and quality, user and online search time, and cost for randomly ordered, standardized searches on common clinical problems. All routes produced the articles we judged to be the most definitive on the clinical problem. However, routes differed significantly (p less than 0.01) for the same searches with respect to online time (range, 5.15 to 18.72 minutes), total search time (8.37 to 20.55 minutes), cost (US $3.38 to $11.62), and proportion of articles relevant to the topic (98% to 75%). "User friendliness" aside, our results showed that the higher the cost, the worse the product. Clinicians should consider these major differences when deciding which search system to use.
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