Objective: To identify efficient PubMed search strategies to retrieve articles regarding putative occupational determinants of conditions not generally considered to be work-related.
Methods: Based on Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) definitions and expert knowledge, we selected as candidate search terms the four MeSH terms describing “occupational disease”, “occupational exposure”, “occupational health” and “occupational medicine” (DEHM) alongside 22 other promising terms. We first explored overlaps between the candidate terms in PubMed. Using random samples of abstracts retrieved by each term, we estimated proportions of articles containing potentially pertinent information regarding occupational aetiology in order to formulate two search strategies (one more “specific”, one more “sensitive”). We applied these strategies to retrieve information on possible occupational aetiology of meningioma, pancreatitis, and atrial fibrillation.
Results: Only 20.3% abstracts were retrieved by more than one DEHM term. The more “specific” search string was based on the combination of terms that yielded the highest proportion (40%) of potentially pertinent abstracts. The more “sensitive” string was based on use of broader search fields and additional coverage provided by other search terms under study. Using the specific string, the numbers of abstracts needed to read to find one potentially pertinent article were: 1.2 for meningioma; 1.9 for pancreatitis; 1.8 for atrial fibrillation. Using the sensitive strategy, the numbers needed to read were 4.4 for meningioma; 8.9 for pancreatitis; 10.5 for atrial fibrillation.
Conclusions: The proposed strings could help health care professionals explore putative occupational aetiology for diseases that are not generally thought to be work-related.
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