Searching for evidence in public health emergencies: a white paper of best practices




Collaboration, Emergency Response, Rapid Review, Systematic Review, Methods, Information Retrieval


Objectives: Information professionals have supported medical providers, administrators and decision-makers, and guideline creators in the COVID-19 response. Searching COVID-19 literature presented new challenges, including the volume and heterogeneity of literature and the proliferation of new information sources, and exposed existing issues in metadata and publishing. An expert panel developed best practices, including recommendations, elaborations, and examples, for searching during public health emergencies.

Methods: Project directors and advisors developed core elements from experience and literature. Experts, identified by affiliation with evidence synthesis groups, COVID-19 search experience, and nomination, responded to an online survey to reach consensus on core elements. Expert participants provided written responses to guiding questions. A synthesis of responses provided the foundation for focus group discussions. A writing group then drafted the best practices into a statement. Experts reviewed the statement prior to dissemination.

Results: Twelve information professionals contributed to best practice recommendations on six elements: core resources, search strategies, publication types, transparency and reproducibility, collaboration, and conducting research. Underlying principles across recommendations include timeliness, openness, balance, preparedness, and responsiveness. 

Conclusions: The authors and experts anticipate the recommendations for searching for evidence during public health emergencies will help information specialists, librarians, evidence synthesis groups, researchers, and decision-makers respond to future public health emergencies, including but not limited to disease outbreaks. The recommendations complement existing guidance by addressing concerns specific to emergency response. The statement is intended as a living document. Future revisions should solicit input from a broader community and reflect conclusions of meta-research on COVID-19 and health emergencies.

Author Biography

Best Practices for Searching During Public Health Emergencies Working Group

Best Practices for Searching During Public Health Emergencies Working Group, comprising expert panelists writing in response to guiding questions and participating in discussion meetings. Working Group members include:

  1. Cheryl Hamill, FALIA, AALIA (CP) Health,, 0000-0002-6069-1806, South and East Metropolitan Health Services, Perth, Australia
  2. Maureen Dobbins, RN, PhD, 0000-0002-1968-6765, McMaster University, Canada
  3. Amy M Claussen, MLIS, 0000-0003-3996-1055, University of Minnesota, United States
  4. Kavita Umesh Kothari, MPH, 0000-0002-0759-5225, Health Information Consultant, Kobe, Japan
  5. Caroline De Brún, PhD, 0000-0002-5185-0043, UK Health Security Agency, United Kingdom
  6. Sarah Young, 0000-0002-8301-5106, Carnegie Mellon University, United States
  7. Sarah E Neil-Sztramko, PhD, 0000-0002-9600-3403, McMaster University, Canada
  8. Shaila Mensinkai, MA, MLIS, Librarian Reserve Corps, Canada
  9. Emma Wilson, 0000-0002-8100-7508, The University of Edinburgh, Scotland
  10. Robin M Featherstone MLIS, 0000-0003-2517-2258, CADTH Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (present affiliation), Cochrane Central Executive Team (sponsor), Toronto, Canada
  11. Margaret Sampson, MLIS, PhD, AHIP, 0000-0003-2550-9893, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Canada
  12. Heather Staines, PhD, MA, 0000-0003-3876-1182, Delta Think, United States
  13. Martha Knuth, MLIS, 0000-0003-4264-1642, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States


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Original Investigation