What IS a Systematic Review?

The Systematic Review is much more than simply a literature or narrative review. It is a formal research study design that aims to identify, analyze, and synthesize all studies relevant to a particular research question. In health care, systematic reviews frequently focus on the effects of interventions for the treatment, prevention, or rehabilitation of diseases. They may also be conducted to investigate the performance of diagnostic tests, to assess the prognosis of health conditions, or for a variety of other purposes.

Systematic Reviews seek to identify all relevant studies through a comprehensive literature search conducted across multiple databases, combined with searches of unpublished literature and even hand searches of key journals. Target outcomes are identified, and a strict set of inclusion and exclusion criteria are established for determining which studies shall be included in the review. Meta-analyses are often conducted in conjunction with systematic reviews, resulting in both qualitative and quantitative analyses of the research question.

In recent years, the number of systematic reviews published in the scholarly journal literature has increased exponentially. Although any author or group can do this type of research, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews remains the gold standard for systematic reviews in healthcare.

In October four librarians from Dana attended a Medical Library Association Continuing Education class to learn more about the librarian’s possible role in systematic reviews. For more information about systematic reviews, or to find out how we might be able to help you conduct one, contact a reference librarian or your department library liaison.


Image credit: Centre for Health Communication and Participation La Trobe University, Australasian Cochrane Centre https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Systematic_reviews_-_what_authors_do.png


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