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Searching for the social determinants of health: observations from evidence synthesis publications.

Systematic Reviews 2024 May 17
BACKGROUND: The social determinants of health (SDOH) are the focus of an exponentially increasing number of publications, including evidence syntheses. However, there is not an established standard for searching for SDOH literature. This study seeks to identify published evidence syntheses pertaining to the SDOH, analyzing the search strategies used and the studies included within these reviews. The primary objectives are to compare search strategies and create a test set of SDOH publications.

METHODS: We searched PubMed, Embase, and Scopus for evidence syntheses that mentioned the SDOH in their research questions and included an SDOH search strategy. Relevant data extracted from each review included databases searched; search terms used for the SDOH; conceptual frameworks referenced; and the citations of primary studies included in the reviews, which were compiled to form a test set of cited papers. The relative recall of the respective search strategies was tested by documenting the total number of MEDLINE results each retrieved and the number of test set papers retrieved.

RESULTS: Sixty-four evidence syntheses were identified and included in the analysis, and 2750 cited papers were extracted. Findings indicate few commonalities across search strategies in search terms used, the total number of results retrieved, and the number of test set cited papers retrieved. One hundred and ninety-three unique MeSH terms and 1385 unique keywords and phrases were noted among the various search strategies. The number of total results retrieved by the SDOH search strategies ranged from 21,793 to over 16 million. The percentage of cited papers retrieved by the search strategies ranged from 2.46 to 97.9%. Less than 3% of the cited papers were indexed with the Social Determinants of Health MeSH.

CONCLUSIONS: There has been little consistency across evidence syntheses in approaches to searching for SDOH literature. Differences in these strategies could have a significant impact on what literature is retrieved, included in reviews, and, consequently, incorporated into evidence-based practice. By documenting these differences and creating a set of papers relevant to SDOH, this research provides a snapshot of the current challenges in searching for SDOH content and lays the groundwork for the creation of a standardized search approach for SDOH literature.

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