A systematic review is a review of a clearly formulated question that uses systematic and explicit methods to identify, select, and critically appraise relevant research. It is also used to collect and analyze data from studies.
Systematic reviews seek to collate all evidence that fits into specified criteria in order to address the question that has been posed. The aim of this process is to minimize bias.
A systematic review of a topic has to have at least these three elements. Consider these three elements in every systematic review that you use in your EBP issue:
- Clear inclusion/exclusion criteria
- An explicit search strategy
- A method or process to organize or collate the data collected
If you are writing a review or reading a review, these elements are key to assessing the value of the document. A systematic review is an article that uses other research articles. Therefore you need to ask, "Which articles did they look at?" The inclusion criteria can obviously bias the outcome.
Be sure to assess the inclusion and exclusion criteria for the review that you are using. Systematic reviews will also outline how the author(s) found articles. They will usually describe the specific search engine terms that were used in order to find the included data.
- Did they only include studies of a certain test vendor?
- Did they exclude studies in a certain patient population?
- Did they include studies from healthy populations?
Finally, any systematic review will include some process by which the author(s) collated the data. This is often a description of the statistical tests they used to compare one paper with another.