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Trio of scholars say systematic reviews are in need of overhaul; their guidance now published in seven different journals

Systematic reviews, a featured article in many scientific journals, need an overhaul, says a trio of medical researchers. A systematic review, often known as “secondary research,” collects and analyzes existing research to highlight a conclusion.

 Upstate Medical University Professor Lynne Romeiser Logan, PT, PhD, says some systematic reviews can sway a lot of opinion and even impact medical care, but they are not always sound science.

Logan, with Kat Kolaski MD of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and eminent scientist John Ioannidis MD, DSc, of Stanford University School of Medicine, have published their take on the quality of systematic reviews.  They offer practical solutions for reviews' shortcomings in an article that has now been published simultaneously in seven journals, including the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery Reviews and the British Journal of Pharmacology.

 There have been some significant systematic reviews that are questionable, whose findings then are used by the medical profession to guide care, said Logan, who has studied systematic reviews and their methodologies for the past 20 years.

 “There is a huge ripple effect when systematic reviews that may not be trustworthy offer recommendations that other people buy into,” she said. “You then have doctors and therapists who are being evaluated for following recommendations—but the recommendations are not justified.”

In a sense, Logan says, there is much at risk when interpreting faulty systematic reviews to shape medical interventions. Given their potential impact on people’s lives, it is crucial for systematic reviews to accurately report on the evidence.

Logan and her coauthors are supportive of systematic reviews but want to see them done with greater attention to rigorous methodological standards.

 “We are providing editors, reviews and authors guidance about using current standards for how systematic reviews should be performed and reported; what we’ve written is really a guidance-on-guidance paper,” she said.

 Logan said she’s hopeful that greater discussion of systematic reviews, fostered by this research paper, will lead to better quality science and patient care.

Other publications featuring the journal article this month are Acta Anaesthesiologica Scandinavica, BMC Infectious Diseases, BMC Systematic Reviews, JBI Evidence Synthesis and the Journal of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine.

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