INTRODUCTION: Given the common use of acronyms and initialisms in the health sciences, searchers may be entering these abbreviated terms rather than full phrases when searching online systems. The purpose of this study is to evaluate how various MEDLINE Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) interfaces map acronyms and initialisms to the MeSH vocabulary.
METHODS: The interfaces used in this study were: the PubMed MeSH database, the PubMed Automatic Term Mapping feature, the NLM Gateway Term Finder, and Ovid MEDLINE. Acronyms and initialisms were randomly selected from 2 print sources. The test data set included 415 randomly selected acronyms and initialisms whose related meanings were found to be MeSH terms. Each acronym and initialism was entered into each MEDLINE MeSH interface to determine if it mapped to the corresponding MeSH term. Separately, 46 commonly used acronyms and initialisms were tested.
RESULTS: While performance differed widely, the success rates were low across all interfaces for the randomly selected terms. The common acronyms and initialisms tested at higher success rates across the interfaces, but the differences between the interfaces remained.
CONCLUSION: Online interfaces do not always map medical acronyms and initialisms to their corresponding MeSH phrases. This may lead to inaccurate results and missed information if acronyms and initialisms are used in search strategies.
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