The findings of the map are based upon the inclusion of references. No review or trial evidence was identified. Only the bigger or better known databases had any information relating specifically to the resources, their content and application.
This appears to be guided by the topic which the databases primarily serve, with the better defined topic areas yielding better coverage. It was not, however, only the topic matter of the databases which generated studies: the database owners were, in some cases, responsible for promoting, marketing and conducting studies on their databases. These key findings are summarised below. Economic databases have the best coverage of evidence. The evidence here ranges from identifying economic literature in a specific way e. The social care databases have been well covered in one report by Clapton for the Social Care Institute for Excellence.
Clapton's report builds on, and draws together, work in the field, looking at specific databases relevant to social care and analogous public health topics 14 , The issue of using these databases for finding and locating grey literature in the health and social care fields is also well covered.
For example, Younger and Boddy's study on AMED 16 appears to be an isolated piece of work analysing the variance of search results depending on the host used to access the databases AMED. Other databases, particularly those which serve a broad collection of topics for example, social science , as opposed to specific topics for example, drugs , had similar studies but these lacked a collective topical focus. Who wrote the research was also a point of interest. British Education Index BEI had eight articles written by its director, Phil Sheffield, and these ranged from an analysis of the services and its users 17 through to guides on how to use the database.
These items of evidence sat well with the research question as they sought to explain the database and its purpose. They sit somewhere between being guides and promotion pieces, and they have been used to good effect as tools. These items of evidence should be read cautiously, as they have been written with an objective in mind. Conversely, however, a director may offer a unique insight into the functionality of their platform.
The latter did not discuss the databases in any detail Fig. The primary finding of the mapping exercise is the paucity of literature relating to the key UK health and social care databases. There was a distinct lack of studies evaluating how these databases work and what they offer. This section of the study will explore this finding. Accordingly, the ideas discussed, do not often escape the Chamber.
Arguably, this is reflective of the UK health and social care database market.
Through the interview studies run in parallel with this mapping exercise , we have heard from researchers that they know and use these databases, but there is no connection between this knowledge and the published literature. The database narrative has not yet made its way into print. There are, conceivably, three explanations for why the database narrative does not exist and why this mapping study has revealed a poor literature base. If a researcher does not know that a database exists, they cannot use it. In the first instance, this is a problem with advertising. Database providers need to do more to raise the awareness of their products.
Concurrently, there would also need to be a drive to raise awareness of the databases within the research community, through training, promotional activity and use. It is possible that researchers know that the databases discussed in this study exist but are unaware of content that they hold. This is an issue which could be solved by both the database producers and the research community.
The database producers can proactively advertise as well train users, being explicitly clear about the content that their databases offer, perhaps in relation to their other databases and other databases in the market place. The researchers, and research community, can validate this through analysis and research.
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Researchers can report their findings by publishing analyses of the databases through empirically derived case studies see below: areas for further research. This explanation may clarify why evidence exists on some of the databases, typically those clustered in areas of advanced and heavy use, such as health economics. Finally, it is also plausible that researchers know that the databases in this study exist but are disinclined to use them. The databases may be difficult to use, requiring specialist vocabulary or expensive access, or the databases may have confusing interfaces, making it hard to do simple tasks, such as exporting references.
These are issues to be raised with the database producers because it stands to reason that, if researchers are not using databases for these reasons, and these reasons can be substantiated, they are valid criticisms which should be discussed by the research community and reported back to the database producers. The authors are not aware that this interfacing happens. Of all the explanations, this is the most concerning, as it best reflects the idea of the Echo Chamber.
If researchers know that the databases exist but choose not to use them, whilst also not being clear why, the databases will not change. It is reasonable to suppose that any of the reasons explored in the paragraphs above could have contributed to the paucity of evidence which this study has identified. Reflecting back to Potter and Woods 22 and their idea of the Echo Chamber, it seems clear that, as researchers, we need a better evidence base to understand these databases, the content they might offer and how they might or might not work.
In short, the research community needs better evidence.go
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An argument should be made for the efficiency of UK databases. This argument is yet to be firmly made but there is strong anecdotal evidence. Simply, it is incumbent to demonstrate that these databases provide unique information i. This is the next step. This could empirically demonstrate areas of unique content, unique journal coverage and specific areas of content strength between the two databases.
It would present a more powerful argument, when arguing for the inclusion of bni or not into the search portfolio for a review, if it could be demonstrated that bni contains valuable and unique data. This type of study would seek to raise awareness of the databases whilst also analysing their content. It could also compare and contrast issues between the databases, such as the ease of exporting research. Understanding database content is central to this as it would seek to show where there is overlap between databases or where there are areas of unique coverage, in certain topic areas.
Performance analysis should be published to demonstrate strengths and weakness of the databases, so that an empirical evidence base can be constructed. Some examples are listed below:. Their study examines the lapse in journal coverage held by Social Work Abstracts, as well as reporting a bias in the journals which are indexed. This seeks to add context to the content of this database. Through its publication, this study may raise concerns for the researcher who, without having read this paper, may have reasonably expected to capture all the relevant studies which a database of this name should offer.
Being aware of the bias which the study identifies, may lead the researcher to compensate for these issues, using an additional database. Beckles and Glover 24 have recently published a study analysing the use of the database cinahl and its yield in searching for literature to develop clinical guidelines for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence [NICE UK ]. This study found that cinahl offered a low yield of research relative to the other databases which the authors used and the authors conclude that this database could be used selectively rather than routinely when searching for clinical guidelines and their supporting literature.
Their paper represents the effectiveness argument well. It seeks to demonstrate that some databases are more useful than others in certain circumstances based upon an empirical case study. Beckles and Glover 24 do not refute the existence of cinahl in totality but find that other databases are better suited to the type of work and topic which their study discusses.
This argument can be easily examined in different topical areas, for example, a discussion of which databases yield grey literature, or which databases might be used in studies of diagnostic test accuracy.
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Studies such as this can help expand the research community's knowledge on what databases can offer through their content, as well as demonstrating which databases work well in which topic areas. This type of study needs to be taken in the context of the specific study rather than being a blanket statement for all research questions but, by empirically demonstrating effectiveness or not , a researcher is left with a more detailed understanding of what a database can offer.
This point is linked to the paragraph above but it seeks to prove the other side of the argument namely, when databases can contribute uniquely to research topics. These examples offer suggestions for further research on the databases discussed in this study. Not only would these studies generate informed, documented discussion but also they would start to develop a working evidence base for the databases with which researchers work.
This can be used in arguments for and against using databases, as well as for discussions on the value of subscriptions to some databases when purchasing decisions are made.
This study reports the first attempt to map the evidence relating to the UK bibliographic databases in the fields of health and social care. The evidence which this study has located demonstrates clear areas for further research because this study is ultimately unable to reach firm conclusions on the status, the value and the future of the majority of the databases under review. The suggested areas of research discussed in this study would help fill this void. In conclusion, the nature of topic has driven the need to understand the databases and their content.
Whatever the reason for the paucity of literature which this study has identified, the primary conclusion is that researchers need better evidence on the tools which they use to locate evidence. Whether this is to raise awareness of databases, to analyse and report on matters such as database content or overlap, or to open academic discussion on the databases themselves, evidence can help the research community at large better understand the databases.
The evidence which this study located was heterogeneous. Whilst a variety of search methods have been used to locate literature on the databases in question, the heterogeneity of the literature found leads us to suggest that there may be pieces of evidence which might not have been uncovered.
This mapping study represents the first attempt to detail the evidence on the databases reviewed. In this way, and with reference to the suggested further areas of research which this study puts forward, a strength of this study is that it offers a starting place for future research on the databases in question. This is an ongoing study and so, if any readers have any comments or further citations which they believe would help fill the void which this study has revealed, the authors would be grateful to hear from them.
The funding was made for a project to analyse the state and usage of the key UK health and social care bibliographic databases.
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