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Finding information for Health Economics

Activity 1: Developing a search strategy

Search Techniques

Most bibliographic databases work in a similar way and allow you to search for the topic you are interested in by using combinations of keywords.

Sample Search

Now think of the keywords for the topic you are looking for, as well as any alternative ways of expressing them.  Here is an example:

Find articles on the cost-effectiveness of vaccination for Covid-19

The obvious keywords would be 'Covid-19', 'vaccination', 'cost-effectiveness' (with alternatives such as 'economic evaluation'). 
You  can use the following devices (called ‘Boolean operators’) to combine your keywords:
  • AND e.g. Covid-19 AND  vaccination.  This will search for all records which contain both these terms
  • OR e.g. cost-effectiveness OR  cost-benefit OR cost-utility.  This will search for records containing either of these terms.  An OR search will find more hits than an AND search
  • PHRASE e.g. "economic evaluation".  This will find only those records where these terms are found together as a phrase.  In most databases, phrases can be indicated by quotation marks around them
  • TRUNCATION e.g. therap*.  This will find any records which have words beginning with therap- :  therapy, therapist, therapeutic, etc.  Truncation is usually indicated by an asterisk (*)
  • ADJACENCY or PROXIMITY search. Triggers a search for words occurring close to others. A more precise version of AND. For example: 'cost adj3 (effective or utility or benefit)'  retrieves articles with 'cost' occurring within 3 words of  one or more of the bracketed words to the right.  The format adj[n] is used in Ovid databases, but Web of Science uses Near/[n], and EBSCO databases use N[n] eg N3; ProQuest has either near/[n] or N[n]: so 'near/3' or 'N3'. The number specified can be greater (near/ 5, near/10) or lesser, but a higher number will be less effective.

Common terms in health economics may be, for example:

  • Cost-effectiveness, cost-benefit, cost-utility (analysis), economic evaluation, QALYs (quality adjusted life years)

Systematic Reviews and Economic Evidence

Systematic and other review types are common in medical,health and related areas. Check carefully to determine the stipulations required by your assignment or project.


One way to set out the possibilities for your search is to set out the keywords in a search sheet or grid.  See the following example using the topic and terms above.  Place the title at the top - Cost effectiveness of vaccination for Covid-19 - and break this down into columns with alternatives for each, ie Cost effectiveness, Vaccination, Covid-19.  Alternative terms for Covid-19 may also be SARS-CoV-2, nCoV19, Novel Coronavirus. Each term may be useful when using the database.

Cost effectiveness search template view

Suggested reading

Aveyard, H. (2019) ‘Chapter 2. How do I develop a question for my literature review?’ in Doing a literature review in health and social care. 4th edn. Maidenhead: McGraw Hill Education.

Aluko, P., Graybill, E., Craig, D., Henderson, C., Drummond, M., Wilson, E.C.F., Robalino, S. and Vale, L.; on behalf of the Campbell and Cochrane Economics Methods Group. (2022) 'Chapter 20: Economic evidence', in Higgins, J.P.T., Thomas J., Chandler, J., Cumpston, M, Li T, Page, M.J. and Welch,V.A. (eds) Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions version 6.3 (updated February 2022). Available from (Accessed 2 March 2023)

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