Access to databases

An obstacle to the widespread practice of EBVM is access to the databases and journals that can hold high quality evidence. Veterinary practices and individual veterinarians will need to actively investigate the most practical and affordable strategies for accessing the best available evidence in their given situation.

Many databases and journals are not free to access and so vets need to either pay for access, find ways to access them through a third party, or use free resources (which may compromise the quality of their EBVM practice).


In human medicine in places like the UK, doctors rely on National Health Service (NHS) library services to provide access to much of the evidence they need for EBM. The lack of an equivalent to the NHS in the veterinary community means that there is no national body to pay for access to the databases and peer-reviewed journals that hold some of the most useful scientific evidence, and so alternative routes must be found. This is one of the key challenges for members of the veterinary profession looking to take EBVM forward.

Options for accessing bibliographic databases

Free databases

It may be that vets need to rely on free sources of evidence as a pragmatic solution to the problem posed by expensive subscriptions. As long as vets are aware of, and open about, the potential limitations, this approach may still improve the quality of decision-making.


“Keep in mind that no source of evidence is perfect, and the practice of EBVM relies on evidence that is “best available.” Gibbons (2009)

PubMed, PubAg, and Google Scholar are all freely available on the Web, as previously described in the section on databases.

Access to databases via professional bodies

Certain professional bodies also provide access to databases as part of their membership package. Some examples are provided below:

  • RCVS Knowledge Library & Information Service offers veterinary practitioners access to veterinary databases and journals for a membership fee. This may well prove an economical way for vets and vet nurses worldwide to get access to the key databases and full-text articles. Even if you’re not a member, the Library can provide you with copies of articles at a cheaper rate than most pay-per-article options on publisher websites. The Information Specialists offer a literature search and document supply service which gives practitioners the opportunity to conduct systematic searches of the veterinary literature, and so this will be an important service for the development of EBVM.
  • BSAVA member’s access – the British Small Animal Veterinary Association offers access to CABI’s VetMed Resource as a benefit to all paying members.
  • American Veterinary Medicine Association – members of the AVMA will have access to the AVMA Knowledge Base. AVMA professional staff make AVMA literature reviews publically available and invite requests for reviews in new areas.

Access to databases via University, College and Vet School libraries

Library computersMany veterinary schools and University Libraries will have made large investments in database and journal subscriptions, but the licence agreements with the publishers restrict access to members of the institution. So while we can train the next generation of vets in the systematic searching required for EBVM using these databases, we cannot promise they will have access to them after graduation.

Vets who have part-time membership of a Veterinary School or University (e.g. those undertaking certificate modules) can take advantage of the free access this gives them to subscription databases and journals via the Library subscriptions.

Subscribe as a practice

Practices can investigate the options for subscribing to databases at the practice level so that all staff working there can get free access. This requires contacting the publishers to get a quote, as the price can vary according to the size of organisation.

  • VetMedResource, which includes a sub-set of the CAB Abstracts database, was designed specifically to provide an affordable alternative for veterinary practices (given that the cost of a subscription to the full database can be prohibitive). The compromise here is that the number of journals indexed is smaller, and so coverage not as broad, so some journals that are not strictly veterinary, but that may contain evidence will be missed.

Subscribe as an individual

Some database providers offer options for individual subscriptions.

Free or low-cost access to databases and publications for developing countries

There are also a number of international initiatives to provide free or low-cost online access to databases (and full-text journals) over the Internet. These will be of great value for developing EBVM. Examples include:

  • Research4Life offers developing countries free or low-cost access to academic and professional peer-reviewed content online, including access to Agora (Global Online Research in Agriculture) and other health and environments sources. The service offers access to a wide range of databases and journals from scientific and academic publishers.
  • The International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) provides access to a wide range of databases and journals to low-income countries. Journal titles available vary by country.
  • Electronic Information for Libraries (eIFL) supports affordable licensing of journals in 50 low-income and transition countries via Library consortia.