Background: Systematic reviews should include search strategies which aim to identify as many relevant papers as possible. However, searching for information on adverse effects is challenging, not least because adverse effects are often secondary or even tertiary outcomes and the inconsistent terminology used.
Research indicates that authors and indexers are increasing including terms for adverse drug effects in their titles or abstracts or indexing of bibliographic records in databases such as MEDLINE and EMBASE. However, it is not clear if this is the same for studies with non-drug adverse effects data.
Objectives: To assess the feasibility of using adverse-effects terms when searching electronic databases to retrieve papers that report adverse effects data of non-drug interventions.
Methods: A collection of papers that reported data on the frequency of adverse effects of non-drug interventions was sought from the included studies of systematic review of adverse effects. Each included study was then analysed to ascertain whether the corresponding records in MEDLINE and EMBASE included adverse effects terms in the title, abstract or indexing.
The results were compared to research which has assessed adverse-effects terms in the title, abstract or indexing of studies on adverse drug effects.
Results: From 9129 DARE abstracts screened, 30 reviews evaluating adverse effects of non-drug interventions met our inclusion criteria. 635 unique papers (358 from 19 surgical intervention reviews and 277 from 11 other non-drug reviews) were included in our analysis.
Records relating to surgical interventions were more likely to contain adverse-effects terms in the title, abstract or indexing than records relating to non-surgical interventions. In both MEDLINE and EMBASE over 90% of records for surgical interventions contained adverse-effects terms whereas less than two-thirds of records for non-surgical interventions contained adverse-effects terms.
Conclusions: While a generic non-drug adverse-effect search filter or suggested terms may not yet be feasible, it may be feasible to have suggested search terms for the adverse effects of surgical interventions.