Custom filters in PubMed. Fail.

“Filter, flavor, flip-top box!” For a moment I was excited to hear about PubMed’s new Custom Filters feature – until I actually tried using it. Yes, it’s nice to be able to store my canned search strategies in My NCBI, but let me tell you about the difference between niceness and usefulness.

pubmed-custom-filter
The good news is that I can now store search filters in My NCBI, from the very simple to the impossibly convoluted. I can even add a filter to the PubMed window as a tab that shows the number of citations retrieved by the filter search. The bad news, however, is very bad. The tab doesn’t actually work. It displays the number of results I would get if I applied the filter. But will it apply the filter? Clicking on the tab has no effect, at least in the few despairing attempts I made yesterday.

filterflavorHere is where I’m in danger of starting to sound like Sylvia Plath (Viciousness in the kitchen! / The potatoes hiss.) To apply a saved filter to a PubMed search I was in the middle of, I had to interrupt the proceedings, go into My NCBI, find my filter, click Edit to display the saved search strategy, highlight it, and copy and paste the whole thing back into the PubMed search box. Is this progress? Why go to the trouble of creating a custom filter tab just to have it sit there and show a number?

It is puzzling why Custom Filters would be called an “enhancement.” This feature amounts to little more than a method of storing search strategies – and a hamstrung one at that. It’s as if whoever programmed this must have gone to the cottage before the coding was complete. Hey you there, sunning on the dock. Please butt out, lose the swimming goggles, pick up your laptop, and give us a filter tab that works.

By the way, the first filter I saved is NLM’s own health literacy search filter.

In case you’re planning to use it, there is an error in the code and the web page has not been updated. The former MeSH heading “Prescriptions, Drug” has been replaced by “Drug Prescriptions.” (Actually, the better term to use is the broader MeSH term “Prescriptions.”)

“health literacy” OR
“health literate” OR
“medical literacy” OR
(health [ti] AND
literacy [ti]) OR
(functional [tw] AND
health [tw] AND
literacy [tw]) OR
((low-literate [ti] OR
low-literacy[ti] OR
literacy[ti] OR
illiteracy[ti] OR
literate[ti] OR
illiterate[ti] OR
reading [mh] OR
comprehension [mh]) AND
(health promotion [major] OR
health education [major] OR
patient education [major] OR
communication barriers [major] OR
communication [major:noexp] OR
health knowledge, attitudes, practice [major] OR
attitude to health[major])) OR
(comprehension [major] AND
educational status [major])OR
(family [ti] AND
literacy [ti])OR
((“drug labeling”
OR Prescriptions [mh])
AND “comprehension”)
OR “adult literacy” OR
“limited literacy” OR
“patient literacy” OR
“patient understanding”[ti] AND
english [la]

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1 Response to “Custom filters in PubMed. Fail.”


  1. 1 a user June 12, 2009 at 12:24 am

    Believe it or not, the person who programmed it is not given a laptop, just a desktop, and he just happens to be reading this post. No sun, no goggles, believe you me. Just a person, a computer, a desk, in a cube.

    The health literacy search that you found is broken… the curly (probably resulting from Microsoft Word) quotes seem to break the custom filter in the url, that’s why clicking on the tab isn’t working. There also seems to be another problem, . This is indeed a bug, but I can assure you, this went through much testing, and bugs like this are inevitable when relying on a single developer.

    I’ll enter this in our bug tracking software to be fixed tomorrow.


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