Article review: Reviews: Rapid! Rapid! Rapid! …and systematic

Reviews: Rapid! Rapid! Rapid! …and systematic. Schünemann HJ et al. Systematic Reviews 2015, 4:4

This editorial introduced the series Advances in Rapid Reviews in the journal Systematic Reviews.  It gives a nice introduction to the challenges facing systematic reviewers who want to undertake reviews more rapidly.  The authors highlight the importance of using strategies to reduce bias and random error and the need for transparency.

Transparency a really crucial issue (be it in ‘systematic’ or ‘rapid’ methods) but is potentially misused.  Being clear about methods is not the same as transparency.  To me transparency is about being clear about the methods in a manner that allows the consumer of that information to understand the ramifications.  So, you might say you searched 1 or 2 databases – that’s being clear.  Being transparent is about explaining what the implications of that are.

One passage to highlight:

Rapid reviews must remain systematic by adhering to the core principles of systematic reviews that avoid bias in the inclusions, assessment, and synthesis of studies. The methods sections will be of greater importance as deviations from traditional systematic review methods should be laid out clearly. Thus, contrary to what the label “rapid” may imply, transparency in the description of the methods used will become more important; rapidity is not a justification for brevity, and rapidity should not be confused with brevity.

I have a slight problem with this passage as I feel that it pre-judges (and frames) progress. It assumes that the current systematic review process is the best way.  I would contend that the method used to review an area depends on the reason for the review (not ‘one size fits all’).  Systematic reviews, especially those that rely on published journal articles (the majority), should not be considered the ‘gold standard’, they are demonstrably not.  They are a compromise.  Basing (or framing) a rapid review on the current methods of systematic reviews is passing on the flaws of that system.  So, going back to transparency, be clear about the problems of systematic reviews and make that understandable – there’s the transparency.

As I said at the top, this is a nice overview article, introducing an important series of papers. The marginal negative is that it’s framed by lens of traditional systematic review methods.

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