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Learning Objectives

After completing this chapter, the reader will be able to

  • Differentiate between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources of information.

  • Identify resources relevant to different pharmacy practice areas.

  • Select appropriate resources for a specific information request.

  • Describe the role of electronic resources in the provision of drug information.

  • Evaluate resources to determine appropriateness of information.

  • Describe appropriate search strategy for use with electronic databases.

  • Recognize alternative resources for provision of drug information.

Key Concepts

  1. Tertiary sources provide information that has been filtered and summarized by an author or editor to provide a quick easy summary of a topic.

  2. Various systems index or abstract literature from different journals, meetings, or publications; therefore, in order to perform a comprehensive search multiple databases must be used.

  3. There are several types of publications considered primary, including controlled trials, cohort studies, case series, and case reports.

  4. At times even well-designed searches of standard medical literature do not yield sufficient information to make clinical decisions or recommendations. In these cases, alternative resources may need to be employed.

  5. Understanding where to access information is only the first step in the provision of quality drug information.


The quantity of medical information and medical literature available is growing at an astounding rate. The technology by which this information can be accessed is also improving exponentially. The introduction of tablets, smartphones, and Internet resources has radically changed the methods and technology by which information is accessed, but not the process of providing drug information.

Pharmacists are being asked daily to provide responses to numerous drug information requests for a variety of people. It is tempting just to select the easiest, most familiar resources to find information; however, by doing that there is the possibility of missing new resources or limiting the comprehensiveness of the information found. It is for these reasons that the systematic approach discussed in Chapter 2 is helpful in order to streamline the search process.

Generally the best method to find information includes a stepwise approach moving first through tertiary (e.g., textbooks, full-text databases, review articles), then secondary (e.g., indexing or abstracting services), and finally primary (e.g., clinical studies) literature. The tertiary sources provide the practitioner with general information needed to familiarize the reader with the topic. This is also an opportunity for the practitioner to gain general information about the disease or drug in question, which ultimately results in a more structured and productive search.

If the information obtained in the tertiary resources is not recent or comprehensive enough, a secondary database may be employed to direct the reader to review primary literature articles that might provide more insight into the topic. Primary literature often provides the most recent and in-depth information about a topic and allows the reader to analyze and critique the study methodology to determine ...

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