Searching PubMed: Clinical Queries, Subsets, and Other Special Queries

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts on PubMed search techniques. Previous posts have gone over basic and advanced searching, using MeSH, and saving and filtering searches. This post is about other options for focusing searches to specific subject areas. The next post will talk about ways to save search results you like.

There are several ways to limit your search to specific subjects. We’ve already talked about filtering, but here are a few more.

Clinical Queries

PubMed has special filters set up for searching certain categories of clinical studies, systematic reviews, and medical genetics on the Clinical Queries page (some are also in the My NCBI filters, under Properties). The first two are useful for finding evidence-based clinical information.

To search in Clinical Queries, first put your search into the search bar. After hitting search, you’ll see results at the bottom of the screen categorized into clinical study categories, systematic reviews, and medical genetics. Once you’re on this screen, you can switch to the clinical study category you want (it automatically starts on therapy), or the medical genetics topic you want.

The clinical studies side also lets you choose broad or narrow scope. If you choose narrow, the search will be more focused with fewer results, while broad will get you more results but they’ll be less focused.

The Boston University Alumni Medical Library has more information on Clinical Queries.


You’ve probably seen subsets on the limits page. Most are pretty self-explanatory, but here are a few explanations of some that might not be.

  • Alternative medicine is included in the complementary medicine subset.
  • Core clinical journals is the current incarnation of the Abridged Index Medicus (AIM), an index of journals particularly relevant to practicing physicians. Here’s a full list of journals currently indexed in it.
  • There are several journal subsets not listed on the limits page. Here are the terms to enter to search them (note: the jsubset ones will be autocorrected to subset, so you’ll have to click the link back to the right search).
    • Health administration journals (non-Index Medicus): jsubseth
    • Consumer health journals (non-Index Medicus): jsubsetk
    • Health technology journals (non-Index Medicus): jsubsett
    • Space life sciences citations: space[sb] (Don’t get too excited—they’re not all about aliens from space. But if you want citations about extraterrestrial life, try the MeSH terms exobiology or extraterrestrial environment.)

Other useful things

(Note: some sites linked in this section contain links or built-in search boxes for PubMed. These don’t use the right URL’s to make the UC e-Links button appear in your searches; to get around this, go to PubMed through the UCLA Library web pages first, then follow the links on the sites listed.)

  • There is a pre-made, exhaustive electronic health record search in PubMed for articles on electronic health records, linked from this page from NLM. (Link also contains a list of other resources on electronic health records.)
  • NLM Resources for Informing Comparative Effectiveness has a built-in PubMed search box for clinical comparisons of treatments or treatment outcomes. It allows you to narrow your search further by selecting from research categories (clinical studies, observational studies, or systematic reviews) and the topics of health disparities, costs and cost analysis, and comparative effectiveness research as subject.
  • Health Services Research Queries
  • The National Cancer Institute has searches designed for cancers by category.
  • The NLM has a directory of special queries resources, including the ones above, as well as health literacy, research reporting guidelines, health disparities, research funded by NIH, retracted publications, and more.

<submitted by Vicki Burchfield>


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