[APTA Blog] Confessions of a Tech-Challenged PT: Asking Searching Questions – And Getting Useful Answers

By Stephanie Miller, PT

I’ll admit it: I’m excited about all that I can do with PTNow. This is somewhat unusual for me, because I’ve always felt a little daunted by technology (see my first post for more on that).

But this thing is awesome.

And yet, the fact that PTNow is so awesome—that it contains so much information—can feel a little … overwhelming. I mean, where do you start? How do you start?

Here’s how I got my feet wet, and a few tips based on what I’ve learned along the way.

To begin with, I decided early on that I’d focus on small chunks, and get comfortable with bits and pieces at a time. I mean, anything new I learn today is more than I knew yesterday, right? Since I’d like to do a better job at searching articles, I thought ArticleSearch would be a good place to start. Seemed easy enough.

As heart failure is a common diagnosis in my practice area of home health, I decided to search on that topic. I began with the “basic search” option. The search window is what you’d expect: a box in which you can type in whatever search terms you’re looking for.

But then came the challenging part … all of the databases. ArticleSearch lets you choose which databases you want to use in your search, and although I vaguely recognized a few from grad school, I hated to admit that a lot of them were foreign to me. But where there’s a will, there’s a way! I was determined to understand the value of each and identify why I would select one over the other. Fortunately, the PTNow tutorial video helps to explain the differences.

The abstracts to the best articles are found using the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), ProQuest Health and Medical Complete, ProQuest Nursing and Allied Health Source, and SPORTDiscus. There are differences between them. Here’s a quick comparison, based on what I learned from the PTNow tutorial.

CINAHL

  • Topics: nursing, allied health, general health
  • Over 1,300 journals
  • Full-text
  • Evidence-based care sheets and quick lessons

ProQuest Nursing and Allied Health Source

  • Topics: nursing, allied health, alternative and complementary medicine
  • Journals, clinical training videos, evidence-based resources
  • Over 1,000 full-text articles
  • Over 15,000 full-text dissertations

ProQuest Health and Medical Complete

  • Topics: clinical and biomedical, consumer health, health administration
  • Over 1,500 publications; over 1,000 of them full-text

SPORTDiscus

  • Topics: sports and sports medicine, fitness, health, sport studies
  • Full-text for 550 journals

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

  • Full-text articles, all systematic reviews
  • Protocols and evidence-based data
  • Updated regularly
  • Investigations of the effects of interventions for prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation

If you’re looking for a specific kind of research resource, here’s what the tutorial suggests:

Full-text articles
CINAHL Complete, Proquest Nursing and Allied Health Source, Proquest Health and Medical Complete, SPORTDiscus (be sure to select the “full-text only” option on the search page)

Systematic reviews
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

Physical therapy-specific research
CINAHL Complete, Proquest Nursing and Allied Health Source, Proquest Health and Medical Complete

Sport-related information
SPORTDiscus

As for my own search …

After becoming more comfortable with the benefits of each database, I decided that the Cochrane database was the place I wanted to begin my investigation into the effects of exercise on patients with congestive heart failure. I clicked on the link, typed in “effects of exercise on patients with congestive heart failure” in the search bar, and chose the Cochrane database. In a few seconds I found articles on the beneficial effects of combined exercise training on early recovery, the effects of specific inspiratory muscle training on the sensation of dyspnea and exercise tolerance, the role resistance exercise training can play in improving heart function and physical fitness in stable patients with heart failure, and the effects of short-term exercise training and activity restriction on functional capacity in patients with severe chronic congestive heart failure, to name just a few. Wow.

Through this whole experience, I not only learned some of the details of how ArticleSearch works, I also got a better sense of how to get the most out of my searches. I suggest a few general tips:

  1. Take time to learn. Invest the time in learning each database and the benefits of using one over the other.
  2. More isn’t always better. Avoid searching every database. You can end up with so many potentially irrelevant options to review that it’s easy to get overwhelmed as you attempt to weed out the information you want. Choose only the search engines that can best target your specific topic, using the above information to guide your selection.
  3. Get help early on. If you start feeling confused, your time will be better spent if you take a break from your search and learn more about the resources you’re working with—trying and trying again when you don’t really understand the system can be frustrating and may result in you missing out on some valuable information. If you start to feel a little unsure of yourself, take a few minutes to check out the PTNow Video Tutorial and FAQ page. Have a more specific question? You can even access an actual PTNow librarian at ArticleSearch@apta.org.

If, like me, you sometimes wrestle with technology, you’ll understand this mixed bag I feel when I’m faced with something outside my technological comfort zone: I know technology can make my professional life easier, but I worry that the technology itself won’t be easy. I was happily mistaken with ArticleSearch. It was so easy!

How easy? Let me put it this way—I have a lot of reading to do.

Stephanie Miller is a staff development specialist with Celtic Healthcare.

Source: Confessions of a Tech-Challenged PT: Asking Searching Questions – And Getting Useful Answers

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