A good scientist or researcher would never leave anything to chance. When trying to get answers to a theoretical question or looking at evidence that supports a certain conclusion, they know the answers need to be thoroughly reviewed, analyzed, summarized, and reported. These things need to be done in an organized and linear manner that leaves no doubt about the validity of the answers. This is essentially the definition of a systematic review.
Going through a systematic review is necessary as is asking what is quality assessment in systematic review? to make sure that answers to questions are objective and not subjective. When answers are deemed to be objective, more reliance can be placed on the validity of the answers or conclusions.
Outside of scientists and researchers, most people have never been through the experience of performing or being a part of a systematic review. With that in mind, we thought it would be prudent to lay out the 8 stages of a systematic review without getting too technical for the benefit of a layperson.
Selecting a Review Team
The most effective and efficient way to run a systematic review is to create a team of researchers/reviewers. The ultimate goal of the team should be to reach a consensus. Since unanimous consent is very difficult to secure in a research environment, consensus should be the goal. To get consensus, the team should be composed of an odd number of participants (3 or more). That ensures there will be no ties and a conclusion will be reached one way or another.
When creating the team, it is important to select members that have areas of expertise related to the question at hand. Also, it is highly recommended that each member has a slightly different skill set so that responsibilities can be doled out based on what team members feel they can contribute to the review. Finally, it’s important to use the right process from all of the available types of systematic reviews.
Determine the Review Question
Every systematic review has to have a solitary target. That target would be the question that is being asked. Remember, the more clear, narrow, and specific the question, the easier it will be to find the right data and evidence that will be used to draw an objective conclusion.
To develop the appropriate review question, top researchers recommend the use of a question formulating frameworks like PICO or SPIDER. These frameworks help researchers sift through a series of thoughts and sub-questions until they arrive at what they believe should be the relevant question for the systematic review.
Planning the Systematic Review
It’s impossible for someone to get where they are going if they don’t have a roadmap that leads them there in the most efficient way possible. This very much applies to performing a systematic review.
The purpose of creating a plan for the systematic review is to establish protocols by which the study will be done. The more detailed the plan, the less likely there will be bias and errors in the conclusion.
The very first step of any systematic review plan would be to determine whether or not the review is even feasible. Answering this question first can save a lot of time and effort that gets wasted chasing rainbows. If a review is feasible, the plan should detail the criteria that will be used to determine whether or not certain studies and data will be used to help reach a conclusion. The plan should also clearly define the parameters of the study and how each participant is expected to take part in the process.
Search for Studies and Data to Be Used in the Review Process
Once a review plan is in place and accepted by the team, the data and study collection process can begin. The goal is to find any and all information that seems relevant to the question at hand. Very few if any limits should be placed on where to find relevant data and studies.
Resources can include reference books in libraries, grey literature/clinical trial registries, and online databases. For reference book research, it’s always a good idea to get help from a librarian. Also, any team members who have actual research expertise can be very useful in the part of the systematic review process.
Select the Studies and Data to Be Used in the Review Process
Once all of the relevant studies and data have been identified and secured, everything should be laid out in an excel worksheet. This will allow for the sorting of information, which helps with the process of eliminating duplicate information.
During the selection process, a minimum of two team members should be doing independent selections. This will help to ensure that one researcher’s bias won’t get weighed into the selection process.
Finally, detailed records should be kept to show how the selection process was done. The records should indicate which studies and data were considered whether rejected or accepted.
Extract Relevant Data to Use as Support Evidence
Once the relevant studies and data have been clearly defined and listed on a worksheet, critical analysis tools and techniques can be used to extract and organize relevant data and evidence. Also, the use of Risk of Bias tools and/or checklists will ensure researchers can identify biased information for exclusion.
Note: A pilot process should be run with all applicable data extraction tools to help identify and eliminate errors in the review process.
Summarize Data into Conclusions
When summarizing or synthesizing data for reporting, critical analysis tools and statistical analysis are of vital importance. If someone on the review team has expertise in statistical analysis, use that expertise to draw conclusions. The conclusion or conclusions of the systematic review must be directed at the specific review question.
The final report should include the conclusion and the process details. The process details should cover methodologies used during the review, selection and extraction tools used to gather criteria, and a detailed analysis of how criteria were used to reach the conclusion. To find the right public in which to post the review, online journal finder tools can be very useful.