Selecting Databases

It is good practice to search databases one at a time - each database has different limiters and content, combined searching can be ineffective or incomplete. The following diagram shows the type of content, and a rough idea of the overlap, of key databases. 

Databases overlap
Image source: Wilding, H. (2020). Library website, St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne. 

It’s important to report the database and platform being used when conducting a systematic review. Databases such as PsycINFO and Medline can be found on platforms such as EBSCOhost, OVID or PubMed. Someone trying to replicate your PsycINFO EBSCOhost search on PsycINFO Ovid will have a totally different selection of limiters and search tools and therefore may not be able to exactly replicate your search.

EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) is an online research tool that “pulls together” almost all of our Library resources so that they can be explored using a single search box. In other words, rather than searching the Library Catalog for books and a database such as Medline for journal articles, you can do an EDS search and get results which include books, e-books, journal articles, and government documents in one list. In this way you could think of EDS as the Library’s version of Google. Generally for most research needs this is the all in one service, however for systematic reviews it is advised that individual databases be used. 


Cochrane Library

Library of systematic reviews

Embase on Ovid (Clinician’s Health Channel)

European equivalent of Medline. Embase is a great research literature resource that includes RCTs. It is especially good for pharmacology information.

Emcare on Ovid (Clinician's Health Channel)

Nursing journal and citation database.

Europe PMC

Europe PMC is a repository, providing access to worldwide life sciences articles, books, patents and clinical guidelines. Europe PMC provides links to relevant records in databases such as Uniprot, European Nucleotide Archive (ENA), Protein Data Bank Europe (PDBE) and BioStudies.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar searches academic publishers, professional societies and pre-print archives. Don't forget to turn on library access in Settings > Library Links > search South West Healthcare.

Informit Health Collection

Australian focus. Supporting the professional practice of evidence-based treatment, this collection features comprehensive coverage of key disciplines across all aspects relevant to nursing, general, specialist and allied health.

Coverage: Full text: 1977-onwards


medRxiv (pronounced "med-archive") is a free online archive and distribution server for complete but unpublished manuscripts (preprints) in the medical, clinical, and related health sciences. Preprints are preliminary reports of work that have not been certified by peer review. They should not be relied on to guide clinical practice or health-related behavior and should not be reported in news media as established information.

Medline via OVID (Clinician’s Health Channel)

Combines the National Library of Medicine's bibliographic database with links to the complete text of articles from leading medical journals. The database offers information related to the fields of medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, the health care system, and preclinical sciences. Large health / medical database that is a great resource for all research literature including randomised control trials (RCTs).

PsycInfo via OVID (Clinician’s Health Channel)

Main psychology database developed by the American Psychological Association


Citation Database - You should use at least one citation database for your search and for key article cross-checking. PubMed comprises more than 27 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books.

Trip Database

Trip is a clinical search engine designed to allow users to quickly and easily find and use high-quality research evidence to support their practice and/or care

Grey Literature

See our library Grey Literature section for further information and list of resources.

What does the literature say we should use?

Optimal database combinations for literature searches in systematic reviews: a prospective exploratory study.



Within systematic reviews, when searching for relevant references, it is advisable to use multiple databases. However, searching databases is laborious and time-consuming, as syntax of search strategies are database specific. We aimed to determine the optimal combination of databases needed to conduct efficient searches in systematic reviews and whether the current practice in published reviews is appropriate. While previous studies determined the coverage of databases, we analyzed the actual retrieval from the original searches for systematic reviews.


Since May 2013, the first author prospectively recorded results from systematic review searches that he performed at his institution. PubMed was used to identify systematic reviews published using our search strategy results. For each published systematic review, we extracted the references of the included studies. Using the prospectively recorded results and the studies included in the publications, we calculated recall, precision, and number needed to read for single databases and databases in combination. We assessed the frequency at which databases and combinations would achieve varying levels of recall (i.e., 95%). For a sample of 200 recently published systematic reviews, we calculated how many had used enough databases to ensure 95% recall.


A total of 58 published systematic reviews were included, totaling 1746 relevant references identified by our database searches, while 84 included references had been retrieved by other search methods. Sixteen percent of the included references (291 articles) were only found in a single database; Embase produced the most unique references (n = 132). The combination of Embase, MEDLINE, Web of Science Core Collection, and Google Scholar performed best, achieving an overall recall of 98.3 and 100% recall in 72% of systematic reviews. We estimate that 60% of published systematic reviews do not retrieve 95% of all available relevant references as many fail to search important databases. Other specialized databases, such as CINAHL or PsycINFO, add unique references to some reviews where the topic of the review is related to the focus of the database.


Optimal searches in systematic reviews should search at least Embase, MEDLINE, Web of Science, and Google Scholar as a minimum requirement to guarantee adequate and efficient coverage.

Bramer, W. M., Rethlefsen, M. L., Kleijnen, J., & Franco, O. H. (2017). Optimal database combinations for literature searches in systematic reviews: a prospective exploratory study. Systematic reviews, 6(1), 245.

Search Filters

Systematic Reviews Subset on PubMed

Systematic Reviews Subset on PubMed

This strategy is intended to retrieve citations identified as systematic reviews, meta-analyses, reviews of clinical trials, evidence-based medicine, consensus development conferences, guidelines, and citations to articles from journals specializing in review studies of value to clinicians. This filter can be used in a search as systematic [sb].

PubMed Subject Filters

PubMed Subject Filters

Flinders Filters

Flinders Filters

Search filters are evidence based literature search strategies, developed using an explicit methodology and tested using a gold standard test comparison study design and detailed in published papers. Each provides a standardised, systematic subject-based search with a known level of performance. Embedding the search filter into a URL for a database such as PubMed provides the searcher with access to a highly performing literature search simply by clicking a link. Examples: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, Palliative care, and Primary Health Care.

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