Architecture for knowledge-based and federated search of online clinical evidence

Enrico Coiera*, Martin Walther, Ken Nguyen, Nigel H. Lovell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


Background: It is increasingly difficult for clinicians to keep up-to-date with the rapidly growing biomedical literature. Online evidence retrieval methods are now seen as a core tool to support evidence-based health practice. However, standard search engine technology is not designed to manage the many different types of evidence sources that are available or to handle the very different information needs of various clinical groups, who often work in widely different settings.Objectives: The objectives of this paper are (1) to describe the design considerations and system architecture of a wrapper-mediator approach to federate search system design, including the use of knowledge-based, meta-search filters, and (2) to analyze the implications of system design choices on performance measurements.Methods: A trial was performed to evaluate the technical performance of a federated evidence retrieval system, which provided access to eight distinct online resources, including e-journals, PubMed, and electronic guidelines. The Quick Clinical system architecture utilized a universal query language to reformulate queries internally and utilized meta-search filters to optimize search strategies across resources. We recruited 227 family physicians from across Australia who used the system to retrieve evidence in a routine clinical setting over a 4-week period. The total search time for a query was recorded, along with the duration of individual queries sent to different online resources.Results: Clinicians performed 1662 searches over the trial. The average search duration was 4.9 ± 3.2 s (N = 1662 searches). Mean search duration to the individual sources was between 0.05 s and 4.55 s. Average system time (ie, system overhea d) was 0.12 s.Conclusions: The relatively small system overhead compared to the average time it takes to perform a search for an individual source shows that the system achieves a good trade-off between performance and reliability. Furthermore, despite the additional effort required to incorporate the capabilities of each individual source (to improve the quality of search results), system maintenance requires only a small additional overhead.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere52
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Clinical decision support systems
  • Evidence-based medicine
  • Information retrieval
  • Meta-search filters


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