New guidance on updating systematic reviews

Professor Paul Garner from LSTM’s Centre for Evidence Synthesis in Global Health has led the development of new guidance on updating systematic reviews which has been published in the BMJ in collaboration with Holger Schünemann from McMaster University and others from Oxford University and Cochrane.

It needs updating! is a cry often heard among people working in Cochrane, the organisation that originally pointed out a systematic review only had currency if it included all known published randomised trials,” said Professor Garner, who is also the Co-ordinating Editor of the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group. “The publication of a single new trial could in a day make the review out of date and potentially misleading. In theory, it sounds a great idea-get the new trial, add it in, tweak the findings and republish, but in practice it turns out to be more complicated.”

With over twenty years of experience in updating reviews, Cochrane joined forces with other specialists, including methodologists from Kaiser Permanente, specialists from the American College of Physicians, and the Agency for Healthcare and Research Quality. Holger Schünemann from McMaster University set up the group, along with information retrieval specialists, bringing together a panel of 20 people who updated guidance for systematic reviews (PUGs) which has been published in the BMJ.

The work built on previous approaches developed in Oxford and Liverpool, including initiatives by Dr Harriet MacLehose, who piloted the approaches in the Cochrane classification frame when she worked at LSTM with the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group.

Professor Garner led on the development of the guidance following the meeting, he continued: “We now know updating is more than just adding in a new study. It means a completely new edition of the review-and the work is considerable. Thus good decisions about when to update are needed, and how we should go about this-either as authors in doing or editors in managing it-is urgently needed. This report provides the most informed guidance to date.”

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