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Answering mental health questions with reliable research evidence
  1. André Tomlin
  1. Director of Knowledge Services, Centre for Evidence Based Mental Health Email: andre.tomlin@psych.ox.ac.uk

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The problem

Finding answers to questions that arise in every day clinical practice has always been an arduous task. The time and effort that it takes to interrogate the wide range of information resources that are now available is rarely rewarded with a gold nugget of evidence. It seems that every new week brings a new journal or web site that promises to solve our problems of information overload, when in reality these new resources often add to our sense of confusion as to where to start searching.

Where do we go to answer our questions?

We have previously introduced readers to the concept of clinical question formulation as the essential first step of evidence-based practice.1 Having formulated our clinical question, there are generally 4 places that we go to find an answer2:

  • Ask a colleague or expert

  • Look in a recent textbook

  • Search your personal reprint file

  • Use an electronic database.

Asking a colleague or expert is often the first option as these people tend to be accessible and easy to approach. Unfortunately, responses from individuals sometimes tend to be loaded with various biases, and should therefore be treated cautiously. Recent textbooks also provide useful lists of references, although these are often out of date before they are published.3 There are now new types of textbooks available that are regularly updated to provide us with the best available evidence about prevention and treatment of clinical conditions. One such publication is Clinical Evidence from the BMJ Publishing Group; a new bi-annual, updated compendium of evidence on the effects of common clinical interventions, with issue one containing 8 mental health topics.4

Electronic databases have therefore become the primary source of reliable research evidence for the busy mental health professional; but that is in no sense the end of the story because the quality of databases varies …

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