Searching biomedical databases on complementary medicine: the use of controlled vocabulary among authors, indexers and investigators. Academic Article uri icon


  • The optimal retrieval of a literature search in biomedicine depends on the appropriate use of Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), descriptors and keywords among authors and indexers. We hypothesized that authors, investigators and indexers in four biomedical databases are not consistent in their use of terminology in Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).Based on a research question addressing the validity of spinal palpation for the diagnosis of neuromuscular dysfunction, we developed four search concepts with their respective controlled vocabulary and key terms. We calculated the frequency of MeSH, descriptors, and keywords used by authors in titles and abstracts in comparison to standard practices in semantic and analytic indexing in MEDLINE, MANTIS, CINAHL, and Web of Science.Multiple searches resulted in the final selection of 38 relevant studies that were indexed at least in one of the four selected databases. Of the four search concepts, validity showed the greatest inconsistency in terminology among authors, indexers and investigators. The use of spinal terms showed the greatest consistency. Of the 22 neuromuscular dysfunction terms provided by the investigators, 11 were not contained in the controlled vocabulary and six were never used by authors or indexers. Most authors did not seem familiar with the controlled vocabulary for validity in the area of neuromuscular dysfunction. Recently, standard glossaries have been developed to assist in the research development of manual medicine.Searching biomedical databases for CAM is challenging due to inconsistent use of controlled vocabulary and indexing procedures in different databases. A standard terminology should be used by investigators in conducting their search strategies and authors when writing titles, abstracts and submitting keywords for publications.

publication date

  • January 1, 2003