Systematic reviews are a type of review that uses repeatable analytical methods to collect secondary data and analyse it. Systematic reviews are a type of evidence synthesis which formulate research questions that are broad or narrow in scope, and identify and synthesize data that directly relate to the systematic review question. While some people might associate 'systematic review' with 'meta-analysis', there are multiple kinds of review which can be defined as 'systematic' which do not involve a meta-analysis. Some systematic reviews critically appraise research studies, and synthesize findings qualitatively or quantitatively. Systematic reviews are often designed to provide an exhaustive summary of current evidence relevant to a research question. For example, systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials are an important way of informing evidence-based medicine, and a review of existing studies is often quicker and cheaper than embarking on a new study.
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While systematic reviews are often applied in the biomedical or healthcare context, they can be used in other areas where an assessment of a precisely defined subject would be helpful. Systematic reviews may examine clinical tests, public health interventions, environmental interventions, social interventions, adverse effects, qualitative evidence syntheses, methodological reviews, policy reviews, and economic evaluations.
An understanding of systematic reviews and how to implement them in practice is highly recommended for professionals involved in the delivery of health care, public health and public policy.