Article review: Rapid Review Summit: an overview and initiation of a research agenda

Rapid Review Summit: an overview and initiation of a research agenda. Polisena J et al. Systematic Reviews 2015, 4:137

This paper is based on the discussions held by over 150 people involved in the rapid review process at a forum convened by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH). The paper focuses on the initial development of a research agenda, which falls in to three distinct areas:

  • how to conduct a rapid review
  • investigating the validity and utility of rapid reviews
  • how to improve access to rapid reviews

The scientific program was comprised of six oral sessions presented by 14 North American and international speakers. Each session lasted between 60 and 90 min. Four presenters represented decision makers, who discussed how they incorporate rapid reviews in their decision-making process and the expectations, appropriateness, and risks associated with the use of rapid reviews. The Summit concluded with an exercise, where ideas for an ongoing research agenda were solicited from participants.

Seven topic areas for a research agenda emerged:

  1. Taxonomy and definitions – Participants noted the difficulty of engaging in scientific discourse in the absence of a consistent lexicon of terms.
  2. Methods, processes, and application – The majority of ideas for future research focused on the area of methods and their application to guide rigorous scientific practice at every stage of rapid review product development.
  3. Comparing and contrasting with systematic reviews – Systematic reviews were the main reference point in discussions about the development of rapid review methods and practice; thus, a number of research ideas focused on the potential benefit of comparative work.
  4. Evaluation of use – Participants identified the need for rapid review evaluations to describe users, to understand how and when rapid reviews are being used, and to delineate existing practices and their outcomes.
  5. Development of a database – A number of ideas focused on the importance of developing a free, international database or repository of rapid review products, as well as related tools and other resources.
  6. Tools and guidelines – There was a high level of interest in the generation and dissemination of tools and guidelines to enhance methodological consistency and stimulate rapid review development processes.
  7. Influencing practice – The area of influencing practice emerged as a minor yet cross-cutting theme.

The discussion and conclusions are there to be read in the entirety but these two sentences, very close to the end are a nice finale:

Yet, the importance of strategic leadership to build and promote scientific momentum was seen as essential. Constructively harnessing the talents of producers and users of rapid reviews will be instrumental in establishing and bringing scientific rigor to the field. Commentary: This is a wonderfully rich and timely paper.

There are so many important issues to be considered, such as comparing methods to systematic reviews.

But, for me, what is crucially needed is a taxonomy to better describe ‘rapid reviews’.  The term ‘rapid’ is vague, is it 5 minutes, 5 days or 5 weeks?  Also, the term allows rapid methods to be portrayed as ‘quick and dirty’ – hardly helpful! This the crucial issue of acceptance by the wider healthcare world.  I actually think methodological issues are relatively straightforward.  There are some great minds and organisations working in this area and I see these issues as being entirely solvable.  So, the fundamental issue is how to obtain political and widespread acceptance of rapid reviews.  And, I completely agree with the paper’s conclusion that strategic leadership is essential.


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