Study objective: To develop a cross disciplinary literature search methodology for conducting systematic reviews of all types of research investigating aspects of the built environment and the health of the public.
Design: The method was developed following a comprehensive search of literature in the area of housing and injuries, using 30 databases covering many disciplines including medicine, social science, architecture, science, engineering, environment, planning and psychology. The results of the database searches, including the type (or evidence) of research papers identified, were analysed to identify the most productive databases and improve the efficiency of the strategy. The revised strategy for literature searching was then applied to the area of neighbourhoods and mental health, and an analysis of the evidence type of references was carried out. In recognition of the large number and variety of observational studies, an expanded evidence type classification was developed for this purpose.
Main results: From an analysis of 722 citations obtained by a housing and injuries search, an overlap of only 9% was found between medical and social science databases and only 1% between medical and built environment databases. A preliminary evidence type classification of those citations that could be assessed (from information in the abstracts and titles) suggested that the majority of intervention studies on housing and injuries are likely to be found in the medical and social science databases. A number of relevant observational studies (10% of all research studies) would have been missed, however, by excluding built environment and grey literature databases. In an area lacking in interventional research (housing/neighbourhoods and mental health) as many as 25% of all research studies would have been missed by ignoring the built environment and grey literature.
Conclusions: When planning a systematic review of all types of evidence in a topic relating to the built environment and the health of the public, a range of bibliographical databases from various disciplines should be considered.
- systematic review
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