Tips on searching the web

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Advanced Internet Searching

High quality resources are available online which are important to locate when searching for evidence to support the commissioning process including meeting papers, CCG Board Papers, consultation documents and Health Needs Assessment reports.

Much of this information is not indexed by healthcare databases such as Medline, but by applying similar search strategies to those you would use on a database to an internet search engines, you can effectively retrieve relevant resources to provide comprehensive literature search results to Commissioners.

UK government website archaeology – the National Archives

The National Archives is the UK government’s official archive including snapshots from a wide range of government and quasi government websites, including DH, and PCTs. With the transfer of government websites to many of the links to DH and PCT websites are either broken or lead to a page with a redirecting link to the document/page. There are forwarding links on for documents published since approx May 2009. In other circumstances you will have to search the archive.

The Wayback Machine

A valuable resource for going beyond government sites.  It is not comprehensive and provides snapshots of archived sites but can be a good source when all else fails.

Hints and tips

  • Use language which you might expect to find in documents such as Board Papers and Strategies to limit your search more effectively.

These documents are perhaps more likely to use ‘official’ rather than ‘lay’ terms to describe conditions and communities for example (depending upon your focus);

Suggested search terms for models of service
“service model*” / “model* of service” /
Service (redesign OR delivery OR improvement OR planning OR specification* OR reconfigur*)

Suggested search terms for care pathways
“care pathway*” / “clinical pathway*” / protocol*

Suggested search terms for best practice
“best practice” / “case stud*” / innovat*

Suggested search terms for health service quality
benchmark* / clinical effective* / clinical governance / cost effective* / indicator* / outcome* / patient safety / quality improvement / quality of patient care / quality assurance /

  • Make use of abbreviations and jargon, thinking of the language likely to be used by NHS, Department of Health and Local Authority organisations such as JSNA, CCG and HNA.

It is also important to think of alternative terms and changing uses of language. For example, former military personnel as a population group are likely to be referred to as ‘veterans’ in NHS documents.

  • When searching for information relating to specific populations, try using the term ‘people with …’ before the name of the group. For example, rather than search for ‘mental health’, try the phrase ‘people with mental health’. This can be utilised for a wide range of population groups – ‘people with learning’, ‘people with physical’.The truncation might sound awkward, but ‘people with mental health’ will retrieve ‘people with mental health problems / issues / difficulties’ etc.

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Limiting your results

  • search for specific types of files
    You can search for PDFs, PPTs, or XLS, by adding filetype: and the 3-letter file abbreviation, for example: “mortality audit” filetype:pdf
  •  search within a specific type of site
    Precede your query with site: if you know you want your answer from within a specific site or type of site. This allows you to limit your results all NHS (site:nhs) UK and Local government ( and UK University ( resources.
    Hint – all CCG URLs are in the format and to look for CCG results in CCG websites use site:[sp] including the space
  • Limiting to results in the title of the resource
    Using allintitle: to precede your search term will limit your results to resources which have the term in the title rather than the entire text.

Google Advanced Search

The Advanced Search page for Google lets you combine a number of filters to focus a search.

Searching Google Effectively
A course on how to search Google effectively by Trish Lacy, Knowledge Services Professional – Information Skills and Outreach, Knowledge Services, Dudley Office for Public Health. Updated January 2013.

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Some useful search hedges

Retrieving information and case studies on health and social care Integration as suggested by respondents to a request on LIS Medical August 2016:

  • collaboration or collab* or “ Interprofessional collaboration”
  • “Health & social care” or “health and social care”
  • “Integrated care” or Integrat* or “Integrated healthcare service*” or “Integrated service*”
  • “Interagency working”
  • “Interdisciplinary working”
  • “Joint working”
  • Partner* or Partnership

Retrieving information about models of service from the net

The following search terms have proved useful in retrieving resources with a commissioning and quality focus from internet search engines (tried and tested on Google and Yahoo)

  • business plan*
  • Implement*
  • improving OR improvement
  • model / service model
  • reconfigur*
  • redesign
  • service delivery
  • service improvement
  • service planning
  • service redesign
  • specification*
  • strateg*
  • prioritis*

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General access to healthcare search terms See Appendix 1A  IN Vulnerable groups and access to health care: a critical interpretive review.  (NCCSDO, revised August.2005)

Retrieving information about care pathways from the net

  • care pathway*
  • pathway*
  • protocol*

Retrieving information about best practice from the net

  • best practice
  • case stud*
  • innovat*
  • pathway*
  • protocol*

Retrieving information about health service quality from the net

  • benchmark*
  • clinical effective*
  • clinical governance
  • cost effective*
  • indicator*
  • outcome*
  • patient safety
  • quality improvement
  • quality of patient care
  • quality assurance
  • collaborat*

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Useful broad commissioning terms

  • commissioning agenc*
  • joint commissioning
  • lead commissioning
  • leadership
  • locality Commissioning
  • personalised commissioning
  • practice-based commissioning / pbc
  • specialist commissioning
  • strategic commissioning
  • Additional Useful Terms
  • contract*
  • engag* / consult*
  • health improvement
  • inequali*
  • needs assessment”
  • outcome*
  • priority setting
  • procurement
  • providing OR provider*
  • purchasing
  • social marketing

Limiting to CCG/NHS/PCT documents in a search engine

  • ccg OR “clinical commissioning group” or site: (including the space)
  • pct OR “primary care trust” (for older material)

Limiting to CCG/PCT papers in a search engine

  • board paper
  • minutes / agenda
  • ccg OR “clinical commissioning group” / site: (including the space)
  • pct OR “primary care trust”

Top Tip: Talk to the person requesting the information, The reference interview is everything!

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Management and clinical databases

Health Policies 

While policies may not be directly commissioning, they directly impact on services. An answer on a library mailing list (Sept 2015) asking about research articles discussing health policies came up with this useful list of resources:



  • Health Business Elite (EBSCO) (available through NHS Open Athens)
  • Health Management Information Consortium (HMIC) (Ovid) (Available through NHS Open Athens)
  • Health Policy Reference Center (EBSCO)
  • PAIS International (ProQuest)

HDAS on the NICE Evidence website

The Health Databases Advanced Search (HDAS) service provides a number of bibliographic databases for NHS staff (OpenAthens ID required) of which the following are most useful in searching for evidence around commissioning:

  • Health Management Information (HMIC)
    The HMIC database is a compilation of data from two sources, the Department of Health’s Library and Information Services and King’s Fund Information and Library Service.
  • Medline
    MEDLINE™ is the United States National Library of Medicine’s (NLM™) premier bibliographic database, also available (free) as PubMed.
  • British Nursing Index (BNI)
    BNI is a bibliographic database that indexes articles from the most popular English language nursing journals published primarily in the UK. BNI is a comprehensive index covering all aspects of nursing, midwifery and community healthcare and therefore includes a range of sources describing service development, in particular in the community.

Medline is generally the first port of call for a clinical search, but for commissioning questions the Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) thesaurus is not always searcher-friendly.  The Health Management Information Consortium (HMIC) database has a thesaurus originally compiled by specialists at the King’s Fund to reflect health management knowledge. The terms also have a UK rather than US focus.

MeSH (Medline) Commissioning Thesaurus Terms HMIC Commissioning Thesaurus Terms
  • State Medicine
  • Primary Health Care
  • Great Britain Family Practice
  • Contract Services
  • England
  • General Practice
  • Building Commissioning
  • Commissioning
  • Commissioning Agencies
  • General Practice Commissioning Groups
  • Hospital Commissioning
  • Lead Commissioning
  • Locality Based Commissioning
  • Practice Based Commissioning


If you are used to searching clinical rather than management databases, try looking for a commissioning-related paper on both Medline and HMIC and comparing the thesaurus terms assigned to each, to familiarise yourself with the different approaches to language.

For example, the paper;

Dixon J, Smith P and Gravelle H. A person based formula for allocating commissioning funds to general practices in England : development of a statistical model. BMJ, 2011;343/7833(1085)

is indexed by Medline and HMIC as follows:

Medline HMIC
  • *Financial Management
  • *General Practice/ec [Economics]
  • *Models, Economic
  • *Resource Allocation/ec [Economics]
  • Budgets
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • England
  • General Practice/og [Org & Admin]
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Prospective Studies
  • State Medicine/ec [Economics]
  • England
  • Formula method
  • General practice
  • hospital care
  • resource allocation










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Naylor C, Goodwin N. The use of external consultants by NHS commissioners in England : what lessons can be drawn for GP commissioning? Journal of Health Services Research and Policy, 2011;16(3):1355-8196

is indexed as follows:

Medline HMIC
  • Contract Services/og [Org & Admin]
  • Health Planning/og [Org & Admin]
  • Primary Health Care/og [Org & Admin]
  • State Medicine/og [Org & Admin]
  • Focus Groups
  • Great Britain
  • Health Policy
  • Commissioning*
  • Consultancy*
  • Contracting out*
  • General practitioners*
  • NHS primary care


Other useful databases:

Cochrane Library
A (free) database of systematic reviews, including those around Effective practice/Health systems and Consumer & communication strategies.  You can also browse the categories and search via  Cochrane summaries.

Knowledge Translation+ (KT+)
Provided by McMaster University’s Health Information Research Unit, KT+ provides access to the current evidence on “T2” knowledge translation* (ie, research addressing the knowledge to practice gap), including published original articles and systematic reviews on health care quality improvement, continuing professional education, computerized clinical decision support, health services research and patient adherence. Sign up for an email alert on topics of interest.

Kings Fund Library database
The online catalogue for the Information and Library service of The King’s Fund is freely available. Coverage includes policy and management of health and social care services (not clinical issues and treatments)1979 to present.

Commissioning Zone (part of NHS Networks)
A wide range of useful resources on all aspects of commissioning.

NICE Evidence Search in Health & Social Care

North Grey Literature Collection
For information on the hard copy collection search The Collection which is made up of the former collection of Liverpool HA/PCT and North West Commissioning Support Unit.  For the current material which is only held in an electronic form use the search box.  Grey literature is a key source of information for commissioners.

Other specialised databases

Librarians supporting the commissioning process may yearn for access to databases and e-journals easily accessible to colleagues in Higher Education or other parts of the library network. It is worth investing time to find out what is available, in order to understand when specialised resources will be valuable to commissioners, and to explore any local arrangements to pay-as-you-go for searches.

  • See the list of specialised databases compiled by Linda Atkinson, Health Care Libraries, University of Oxford.

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