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Health Economics Logo

Health Economics Information Resources: A Self-Study Course

Module 1, Part 2: Key Information Sources

The grey literature

Grey literature is characterized as material that is not published through regular book-publishing channels, is not subject to formal bibliographic control (indexing for large bibliographic databases such as Medline), and can be difficult to identify and obtain; and lastly, it is often country-specific.

The Fourth International Conference on Grey Literature (GL '99) in Washington, DC, in October 1999 defined grey literature as follows:

"That which is produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats, but which is not controlled by commercial publishers." (Source: What is Grey Literature? New York Academy of Medicine, 2003. [Online].

Alberani (1990) defines grey literature publications as non-conventional, fugitive, and sometimes ephemeral publications that may include, but are not limited to the following types of materials: reports (pre-prints, preliminary progress and advanced reports, technical reports, statistical reports, memoranda, state-of-the art reports, market research reports, etc.), theses, conference proceedings, technical specifications and standards, non-commercial translations, bibliographies, technical and commercial documentation, and official documents not published commercially (primarily government reports and documents).

Examples of producers of grey literature relevant to health economics include:
  • government agencies/departments
  • centers of health services research
  • centers of economic research
  • health policy-related organizations
  • centers of health technology assessment
  • health care provider organizations
  • public health agencies at all levels (local, state, national)

 A discussion of the impact and significance of grey literature appears in Arsenio Paez article "Gray literature: An important resource in systematic reviews."

Grey literature - specialist catalogs

Catalogs of specialist libraries in the field offer a rich bibliographic source of grey literature. Examples include the New York Academy of Medicine Library, the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (CFHI), formerly The Canadian Health Services Research Foundation (CHSRF) Cabot database and the Health Management Information Consortium (UK) Database (HMIC).

National Library of Medicine

  • The NLM Digital Collections include a curated collection of documents from important grey literature publishers in the areas of health policy and health services research.

Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (CFHI), formerly The Canadian Health Services Research Foundation (CHSRF)

  • CFHI site
  • catalog of Canadian health services research literature that can be searched using a Web-based online search engine or browsed by title
  • provides access to over 11,000 citations with over 800 containing the term, "economics"
  • view citations for books, journal articles and proceedings

HMIC - Health Management Information Consortium (UK) database

  • HMIC
  • combined catalogs of the UK Department of Health, the King's Fund and the Nuffield Institute for Health
  • intended to provide valuable information for health managers and administrators in the areas of health policy, health economics, social policy and care, and public health and primary care
  • contains about 300,000 citations

Grey literature - research in progress

To find the most current grey literature, sites that provide access to working papers, reprints and databases are invaluable. Five such sites are listed below with details about the site.

HSRProj - Health Services Research Projects in Progress Database

  • database providing descriptions of ongoing grants and contracts in health services research
  • produced by NLM's National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology (NICHSR)

RePEc - Research Papers in Economics

  • RePEc home page
  • collaboration of over 100 volunteers in 30 countries to enhance the dissemination of research in economics
  • database of working papers in economics
  • in addition to working papers, journal articles and software components are also included in the RePEc database

IDEAS - Internet Documents in Economics Access Service

  • IDEAS home page
  • enables searching across complete RePEc database
  • working papers, journals, software, book chapters, books, authors, and institutions can be searched

Cambridge University Abstracts of Working Papers in Economics

  • the Cambridge University Abstracts of Working Papers in Economics are available through RePEc

EDIRC - Economics Departments, Institutes and Research Centers in the World

  • EDIRC home page
  • more than 6964 institutions in 216 countries and territories are listed
  • the content at this site is listed by country and also by areas (including country codes and continents, fields and function


Alberani V, Pietrangeli PDC, Mazza AMR (1990). The use of grey literature in health sciences: a preliminary survey. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 78(4): 358-363. URL Accessed 6/25/2020

GL'99 Conference Program. Fourth International Conference on Grey Literature: New Frontiers in Grey Literature. Grey Net, Grey Literature Network Service. Washington D.C. USA, 4-5 October 1999. [no longer available online]

Helmer, Diane. Chapter 10: Grey literature. In: Auston, Ione; Topfer, Leigh-Ann, editors. Etext on health technology assessment (HTA) information resources [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine; 2002 [modified 2003 Jun 14; cited 2003 Aug 25]. [about 9 p.]. [no longer available online]

Paez, A. "Gray literature: An important resource in systematic reviews." 2017 Dec 21. doi: 10.1111/jebm.12265. URL Accessed 6/25/2020

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Last Reviewed: June 25, 2020