Background: Completeness of information is an essential foundation for conducting systematic reviews and authors are encouraged to search conference abstracts to identify trials. Sometimes more than one database provides coverage of similar conferences, causing uncertainty over which database authors should search. When databases do not provide a list of included conferences, this can be especially problematic.
Objective: To determine and compare the content and coverage of AIDSearch and NLM Gateway for the retrieval of relevant HIV/AIDS conference abstracts.
Methods: Known HIV/AIDS conferences were initially identified and listed by full title and abbreviated title. The NLM Gateway website provided a full list of included conferences so we systematically performed searches using both full and abbreviated titles and documenting the years that were electronically available. Determining the content and coverage of AIDSearch was more challenging. No list of conferences was available on the AIDSearch website. The search involved identifying a conference abstract (number, author, title) from a conference proceeding in a particular year and then verifying whether it was available in AIDSearch. Thereafter an iterative search process was carried out to ascertain the first year of inclusion of each conference proceeding abstracts. A table was created to compare the content and coverage of AIDSearch versus NLM Gateway.
Results: The content comparison between AIDSearch and NLM Gateway revealed that NLM Gateway yields the highest number of relevant HIV/AIDS conferences. The coverage comparison showed that AIDSearch is more consistent from year to year in the inclusion of abstracts. Conference abstracts proceedings are available from mid 1980s in AIDSearch and only from the late 1980s in NLM Gateway. Abstracts from the two most important HIV/AIDS conferences, the International AIDS Conference and the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, are available in both databases and include year 2004 records.
Conclusions:The findings suggested that a combination of AIDSearch and NLM Gateway searching is required to retrieve all relevant conference proceeding abstracts. Further research is required to assess the importance of the HIV/AIDS conferences identified, and to decide which conference needs to be continuously searched, based on priority and feasibility.