Wednesday, 16 April 2008

The bee's knees

Cochrane is a name that seems to stick in people's minds. I suspect that they hear (quite rightly) the words "best evidence" and "gold standard" strung together in the same sentence as "Cochrane" and then, when needing to do a search, feel that nothing but Cochrane will do.

It is true, Cochrane has full text systematic reviews, the bee's knees of evidence. However, a systematic review isn't always what you need. Cochrane sets out to answer questions such as "what works best to treat X?", "Which is the better treatment for X - therapy a or therapy b?" Cochrane does not answer questions on how to diagnose a particular illness, issues of prognosis, statistics, epidemiology or give any handy round-ups of current therapies and thinking. Its job is quite specific and although it does what it sets out to do very well, there are plenty of things it wont do.

The other issue with Cochrane is that it is (compared with Medline, Cinahl or Embase) very small. This is partly because producing a systematic review takes a very long time to do. So it's often possible to find that no systematic review has been done in your particular area of interest.

What if Cochrane is the database you need? It's not part of the NLH 2.0 (although you will find a link to it from the NLH homepage under "Evidence Based Reviews"). It's not searched in the same way as NLH databases. You don't need an Athens password, for a start, or any other password, but it is free to use. It can be a little unwieldy, and require an amount of perseverance. Wiley - who publish the Library - have recently produced a set of tutorials on using Cochrane. These cover a general introduction, tips on advanced searching using the subject headings, and saving searches and setting up email alerts. (You need to register, for free, to use these.)

The Cochrane help page has links to PowerPoint presentations, e-learning modules and pdf guides.

By the way- if you visit the Cochrane Collaboration page they have podcasts offering audio summaries of some reviews.

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