A new strategy for systematic reviews

typingIf you’re a regular reader here at Evidenced-based Living, you know of our love for the systematic review.  The concept of analyzing all of the evidence on a given topic before drawing a conclusion ensures you’re making the best decision possible. But systematic reviews do have one problem: they can quickly become out-dated.

A new article by medical researchers in Australia and England analyzed the evidence we have about systematic reviews themselves. They found that typically more than a year passes between when the evidence on a topic is reviewed and when a systematic analysis is published. After publication, only a fraction of reviews are updated with new evidence.

Furthermore, nearly a quarter of the reviews not updated within two years of publication failed to incorporate new evidence that would “substantively change conclusions about the effectiveness or harms of therapies.”

Their take home messages: Many systematic reviews are missing out on meaningful evidence.

They offer a solution to the problem: a new kind of review – a “living” systematic review – that is published online and is continually updated. The idea is to use data-mining technology to search for new studies on relevant topics which could then get incorporated into the reviews.

The authors acknowledge there are challenges to implementing this new model. The new reviews would require a peer-review process to ensure the evidence is reputable, and researchers would need to develop new communications models to ensure the latest evidence is included.

Overall, this concept is an interesting solution to the real-life problem of translating data into evidence that people can use in daily decision-making.

“In the future, we will have new systems in place to update evidence in a more timely way,” EBL editor Jane Powers said. “We all need to be mindful of the fact that evidence can be outdated and do our best to find the more current evidence available to inform us about every day issues in our lives.”

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