Meeting a need: development and validation of PubMed search filters for immigrant populations




Filter, filters, immigrant health, search strategy, filter development, hedge, hedges


Objective: There is a need for additional comprehensive and validated filters to find relevant references more efficiently in the growing body of research on immigrant populations. Our goal was to create reliable search filters that direct librarians and researchers to pertinent studies indexed in PubMed about health topics specific to immigrant populations.

Methods: We applied a systematic and multi-step process that combined information from expert input, authoritative sources, automation, and manual review of sources. We established a focused scope and eligibility criteria, which we used to create the development and validation sets. We formed a term ranking system that resulted in the creation of two filters: an immigrant-specific and an immigrant-sensitive search filter.

Results: When tested against the validation set, the specific filter sensitivity was 88.09%, specificity 97.26%, precision 97.88%, and the NNR 1.02. The sensitive filter sensitivity was 97.76%when tested against the development set. The sensitive filter had a sensitivity of 97.14%, specificity of 82.05%, precision of 88.59%, accuracy of 90.94%, and NNR [See Table 1] of 1.13 when tested against the validation set.

Conclusion: We accomplished our goal of developing PubMed search filters to help researchers retrieve studies about immigrants. The specific and sensitive PubMed search filters give information professionals and researchers options to maximize the specificity and precision or increase the sensitivity of their search for relevant studies in PubMed. Both search filters generated strong performance measurements and can be used as-is, to capture a subset of immigrant-related literature, or adapted and revised to fit the unique research needs of specific project teams (e.g. remove US-centric language, add location-specific terminology, or expand the search strategy to include terms for the topic/s being investigated in the immigrant population identified by the filter). There is also a potential for teams to employ the search filter development process described here for their own topics and use.

Author Biographies

Q. Eileen Wafford, AHIP, Galter Health Sciences Library & Learning Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Eileen Wafford, MSt, MLIS, AHIP is a research librarian at Galter Health Sciences Library and Learning Center. Eileen works with faculty, staff, students, and affiliated researchers to provide reference and specialized research services, including assistance with search strategies and systematic and scoping reviews. Eileen collaborates with faculty and other members of the Feinberg School of Medicine community to create and deliver training and support for library services and resources.

Corinne H. Miller, Galter Health Sciences Library & Learning Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Corinne H. Miller, MLIS is a Clinical Informationist at Galter Health Sciences Library & Learning Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Annie B. Wescott, Galter Health Sciences Library & Learning Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Annie B. Wescott, MLIS is a research librarian at Galter Health Sciences Library & Learning Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Ramune K. Kubilius, AHIP, Galter Health Sciences Library & Learning Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Ramune K. Kubilius, MALS, AHIP is collection development / special projects librarian at Galter Health Sciences Library & Learning Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and a member of the library’s reference working group.


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Original Investigation