March 13, 2014

Retrieving clinical evidence: a comparison of PubMed and Google Scholar for quick clinical searches.

Retrieving clinical evidence: a comparison of PubMed and Google Scholar for quick clinical searches.

Authors: Shariff SZ, Bejaimal SA, Sontrop JM, Iansavichus AV, Haynes RB, Weir MA, Garg AX

BACKGROUND: Physicians frequently search PubMed for information to guide patient care. More recently, Google Scholar has gained popularity as another freely accessible bibliographic database.

OBJECTIVE: To compare the performance of searches in PubMed and Google Scholar.

METHODS: We surveyed nephrologists (kidney specialists) and provided each with a unique clinical question derived from 100 renal therapy systematic reviews. Each physician provided the search terms they would type into a bibliographic database to locate evidence to answer the clinical question. We executed each of these searches in PubMed and Google Scholar and compared results for the first 40 records retrieved (equivalent to 2 default search pages in PubMed). We evaluated the recall (proportion of relevant articles found) and precision (ratio of relevant to nonrelevant articles) of the searches performed in PubMed and Google Scholar. Primary studies included in the systematic reviews served as the reference standard for relevant articles. We further documented whether relevant articles were available as free full-texts.

RESULTS: Compared with PubMed, the average search in Google Scholar retrieved twice as many relevant articles (PubMed: 11%; Google Scholar: 22%; P<.001). Precision was similar in both databases (PubMed: 6%; Google Scholar: 8%; P=.07). Google Scholar provided significantly greater access to free full-text publications (PubMed: 5%; Google Scholar: 14%; P<.001).

CONCLUSIONS: For quick clinical searches, Google Scholar returns twice as many relevant articles as PubMed and provides greater access to free full-text articles.


J Med Internet Res. 2013;15(8):e164