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Systematic reviews: Bibliographic databases

Top tips: choosing a database

For most systematic reviews and extensive literature reviews we recommend:

  • Ovid Medline; PLUS
  • Ovid Embase; PLUS
  • Ovid Emcare; PLUS
  • APA PsycInfo; PLUS
  • Cochrane Library

Depending on the topic, you may also like to search trial registers such as or other grey literature resources. You may also have other relevant bibliographic databases available through university or association libraries which we cannot provide.

Database content - broader than you think

Keep in mind that the specialty area of a database is very broad, and it indicates the types of journals indexed rather than the specific content. For example a nursing and allied health database will still include articles on general medicine, psychology and radiology which are published in nursing and allied health journals. Likewise, there are many nursing related topics in Medline and PsycINFO. Medline and Embase cover an extremely wide range of topics.

Summary of key bibliographic health databases

The following diagram shows the type of content, and a rough idea of the overlap, of key databases. It demonstrates the need for multiple databases to be included in a comprehensive literature search, but it does not attempt to be exact or exhaustive. Databases change constantly and there are many layers of duplication.

Summary: Bibliographic databases

Database Platform Content Usability Recommended use Comments
Medline ALL Ovid
  • Biomedical, clinical sciences, general health
  • US database, includes international journals
  • If you only search one database make it this one
  • Key database - all purpose
  • General health and medical topics - also includes nursing, allied health, mental health
  • Essential for systematic reviews - search strategy should be finalised in Medline before translating to other databases
  • Content of Medline ALL is the same as PubMed  - no need to search both
  • Uses MeSH subject headings
Embase Ovid
  • Biomedicala and general health
  • Pharmacology focus
  • European database, includes international journals
  • Key database with a European focus - all purpose
  • Pharmaceuticals are a strength
  • General health and medical topics - also includes nursing, allied health, mental health
  • Essential for systematic reviews
  • Highly detailed indexing with many subject headings for minor topics, so may return high number of results - consider focusing subject headings if relevance is low
  • Uses Emtree subject headings
  • Said to include all Medline content as well, but different records are retrieved so it does not replace a Medline search
Emcare Ovid
  • Nursing and allied health
  • European database connected to Embase, includes international journals
  • Indexes nursing and allied health journals with broad range of health related content
  • Systematic reviews
  • Uses Emtree subject headings
APA PsycInfo Ovid
  • Mental health and behavioural sciences
  • Mental health, psychology, psychiatry
  • Systematic reviews
  • Uses PsycInfo subject headings
  • Nursing and allied health
  • nursing and allied health
  • Systematic reviews
  • Different syntax (commands) to Ovid databases
  • Uses CINAHL subject headings
  • Search history defaults in reverse order
Cochrane Library Wiley
  • Systematic reviews, trials
  • Essential for systematic reviews
  • Syntax (commands) can be tricky and are best translated from an Ovid Medline search using the Polyglot Search Translator
  • Uses MeSH subject headings, but they look different to Ovid Medline
PubMed NLM
  • Biomedical, clinical sciences, general health
  • US database, includes international journals
  • If you are already comfortable with PubMed - otherwise Ovid Medline ALL provides the same content with a more structured and consistent interface
  • Free access without a subscription
  • Either Medline ALL or PubMed should be searched for a systematic review
  • Content is same as Medline ALL - there is no need to search both
  • Free, public access database
  • Uses MeSH subject headings
  • Search guidance for this platform not currently available through our library
Ovid Nursing Ovid
  • Nursing
  • Nursing content, but duplicated in other databases so not essential
  • Better topic coverage of nursing literature available through Ovid Emcare and CINAHL
  • Some issues with quality of records and export to EndNote
Informit Health Collection RMIT
  • small Australian and New Zealand health database
  • some indigenous content
  • Indigenous health
  • Simple text based searching.
  • No subject headings.
  • Can export to EndNote.


Guide Author

Helen Wilding, Senior Research Librarian

Carl de Gruchy Library, St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne

Literature Searching, Systematic Reviews, Mental Health liaison 
Thursdays, Fridays & alternate Wednesdays
Helen's profile | Researchgate | Orcid