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Systematic Reviews: Overview

This guide is intended to provide related information for the users who prepare to write systematic reviews.

What is a Systematic Review

"A properly conducted systematic review faithfully summarizes the evidence from all relevant studies on the topic of interest, and it does so concisely and transparently." (Cook, 1997)

Different Types of Reviews

  • Systematic Review
  • Meta-Analyses
  • Integrative Review
  • Rapid Review
  • Individual Patient-Level Meta-Analyses


EPID 582: Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis

Please check with Department as this course is not offered every year
1 course unit
Prerequisite: EPID 510 or equivalent & EPID 526 or equivalent (may be taken concurrently) and permission of instructor
InstructorCraig Umscheid MD, MSCE 
This course will provide an introduction to the fundamentals of systematic reviews and meta-analysis.  It will cover introductory principles; protocol development; search strategies; data abstraction methods; quality assessment; meta-analytic methods; and applications of meta-analysis.  The course is composed of a series of weekly small group lectures and exercises, including protocol presentations.

Steps for Performing Systematic Reviews

1. Develop a Research Topic

  • The PICO (Population, Intervention, Comparator/Comparison, Outcomes) help to clarify the critical elements of a key question
  • A research question might be refined after performing a preliminary literature search

2. Define Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

  • Define which subjects or studies will be included into the review
  • Determined by the research  question
  • Need to be defined before the search is conducted

3. Search the Literature

      More details are provided in Literature Search

4. Select Studies

  • Usually conducted in two passes
        i. Review title and abstract
        ii. Review full text
  • At least two independent reviewers with a third person availabe for conflicts
  • Keep a log of excluded studies with reasons for exclusion

5. Assess study quality

  • Each study meeting the inclusion criteria is accessed for quality
  • More studies may be excluded after this step
  • Must be documented

6. Extract Data

  • Reviewers will extract data from the included documents to be analyzed either qualitatively or quantitatively
  • Reviewers may develop standardized forms

7. Analyze and Present Results

  • Either qualitative or quantitative (Meta - Analysis)
  • May have to perform sensitivity analyses and examine funnel and forest plots

8. Interpret Results

Reviewers should comment on:

  • Strength of the evidence
  • Applicability of the results
  • Benefits/costs/tradeoffs
  • Limitations
  • Implication for future research

9. Update the Review as Needed

New research findings can quickly make Systematic Reviews out of date. 

Subject Guide

Expertise in Systematic Review Team

Standards for Systematic Reviews – from Institute of Medicine (IOM)

Establish a team with appropriate expertise and experience to conduct the systematic review

  • 2.1.1 Include expertise in the pertinent clinical content areas
  • 2.1.2 Include expertise in systematic review methods
  • 2.1.3 Include expertise in searching for relevant evidence
  • 2.1.4 Include expertise in quantitative methods
  • 2.1.5 Include other expertise as appropriate 
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