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Systematic Reviews   Tags: systematic reviews  

Last Updated: Mar 14, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review is a summary of the medical literature that uses explicit methods to perform a comprehensive literature search and critical appraisal of individual studies and that uses appropriate statistical techniques to combine these valid studies. (CEBM).

Key characteristics of a systematic review are:

  • a clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies
  • an explicit, reproducible methodology
  • a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that would meet the eligibility criteria
  • an assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of risk of bias
  • a systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies. (Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions, 2008, p. 6)

Meta analysis is a systematic review that uses quantitative methods to synthesize and summarize the results.


Similiarities and Differences Between Systematic and Literature Reviews

Reproduced from: Bettany-Saltikov, J. (2010). Learning how to undertake a systematic review: Part 1. Nursing Standard, 24(40): 47-55.

  Systematic Review Literature Review
Question Focused on a single question Not necessarily focused on a single question, but may describe an overview
Protocol A peer review protocol or plan is included No protocol is included
Background Both provide summaries of the available literature on a topic
Objectives Clear objectives are identified Objectives may or may not be identified
Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria Criteria stated before the review is conducted Criteria not specified
Search Strategy Comprehensive search conducted in a systematic way Strategy not explicitly stated
Process of Selecting Articles Usually clear and explicit Not described in a literature review
Process of Evaluating Articles Comprehensive evaluation of study quality Evaluation of study quality may or may not be included
Process of Extracting Relevant Information Usually clear and specific Not clear or explicit
Results and Data Synthesis Clear summaries of studies based on high quality evidence Summary based on studies where the quality of the articles may not be specified. May also be influenced by the reviewer's theories, needs and beliefs
Discussion Written by an expert or group of experts with a detailed and well grounded knowledge of the issues

How to Books

Cover Art
Finding What Works in Health Care - Jill Eden; Laura Levit; Alfred Berg; Sally Morton (Editors); Committee on Standards for Systematic Reviews of Comparative Effectiveness Research; Institute of Medicine
Call Number: Blaisdell Medical Library W 84.3 I595f 2011
ISBN: 9780309164252
Publication Date: 2011-06-20
In Finding What Works in Health Care the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends 21 standards for developing high-quality systematic reviews of comparative effectiveness research. The standards address the entire systematic review process from the initial steps of formulating the topic and building the review team to producing a detailed final report that synthesizes what the evidence shows and where knowledge gaps remain.

Cover Art
Systematic Reviews in Health Care: Meta-Analysis in Context
Call Number: Carlson Health Sci Library WA20.5 S995 2001

Cover Art
Systematic Reviews in Health Care: A Practical Guide
Call Number: Carlson Health Sci Library W20.5 S9955 2001 Regular Loan

Cover Art
Systematic Reviews to Support Evidence-Based Medicine: How to Review and Apply Findings of Healthcare Research
Call Number: Blaisdell Medical Library WB 102 S97 2011 Regular Loan

Bruce Abbott

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Cover Art
Cochrane Handbook For Systematic Reviews of Interventions
Provides guidance to authors for the preparation of Cochrane Intervention reviews. Chapter 6 covers searching for reviews.

Systematic Reviews: CRD's Guidance for Undertaking Reviews in Health Care
From The University of York Centre for Reviews and Dissemination:
Provides practical guidance for undertaking evidence synthesis based on a thorough understanding of systematic review methodology. It presents the core principles of systematic reviewing, and in complementary chapters, highlights issues that are specific to reviews of clinical tests, public health interventions, adverse effects, and economic evaluations.

How to Review the Evidence: Systematic Identification and Review of the Scientific Literature - NHMRC
From Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council:

A guide to the development, implementation and evaluation of clinical practice guidelines.


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