Objectives: The objective of this study was to explore the degree to which databases other than MEDLINE contribute studies relevant for inclusion in rapid health technology assessments (HTA).
Methods: We determined the extent to which the clinical, economic, and social studies included in twenty-one full and four rapid HTAs published by three Canadian HTA agencies from 2007 to 2012 were indexed in MEDLINE. Other electronic databases, including EMBASE, were then searched, in sequence, to assess whether or not they indexed studies not found in MEDLINE. Assessment topics ranged from purely clinical (e.g., drug-eluting stents) to those with broader social implications (e.g., spousal violence).
Results: MEDLINE contributed the majority of studies in all but two HTA reports, indexing a mean of 89.6 percent of clinical studies across all HTAs, and 88.3 percent of all clinical, economic, and social studies in twenty-four of twenty-five HTAs. While EMBASE contributed unique studies to twenty-two of twenty-five HTAs, three rapid HTAs did not include any EMBASE studies. In some instances, PsycINFO and CINAHL contributed as many, if not more, non-MEDLINE studies than EMBASE.
Conclusions: Our findings highlight the importance of assessing the topic-specific relative value of including EMBASE, or more specialized databases, in HTA search protocols. Although MEDLINE continues to be a key resource for HTAs, the time and resource limitations inherent in the production of rapid HTAs require that researchers carefully consider the value and limitations of other information sources to identify relevant studies.