About Systematic Reviews

PRISMA Systematic Review

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A systematic review is a “study of studies” that uses organized methods to collate and synthesize the findings of a clearly presented topic; it is done to review all available primary research to answer a well-defined question. To promote transparency in the reporting of systematic reviews, the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) statement was published in 2009.

For 11 years, this served as a guideline for what must be included in a systematic review; it included a diagram (if you’re wondering what a PRISMA flow diagram is, it is a diagram that depicts the flow of information through the different phases of a systematic review) and a 27-item checklist. In 2020, the PRISMA statement was updated to accommodate the advances and evolution in research methodologies.

The New PRISMA 2020

Given the changes in technology, processes, and methods behind systematic reviews over the past decade, it was high time for an update. Eleven years later, the new statement has caught up with the times. But what is new in PRISMA 2020?

Just like its predecessor, the 2020 PRISMA statement safeguards the importance of transparent reporting in systematic reviews. It is comprehensive and contains a 27-item checklist, although with some changes. For example, researchers must now:

  • Report on methods and results of assessing certainty in the body of evidence for an outcome
  • Declare conflicts of interest among reviewers
  • Specify the availability and accessibility of data, analytic code, or other materials
  • Provide full search strategies
  • Cite excluded studies that might appear to meet the inclusion criteria

What Should a PRISMA Systematic Review Include?

Here’s a breakdown of the PRISMA statement checklist, which outlines what a systematic review should include:

  • Title: Identify the report as a systematic review
  • Abstract: Include a summary of the review
  • Rationale: Describe the reasoning behind the review
  • Objectives: State the objectives or questions the review addresses
  • Eligibility criteria: Specify the criteria used to include or exclude studies
  • Information sources: Specify all sources searched or consulted to identify studies
  • Search strategy: Present all search strategies
  • Selection process: Specify the methods used to decide if a study fits eligibility criteria
  • Data collection process: Explain the methods used to collect data
  • Data items: List and define all outcomes and other valuables for which data were sought
  • Study risk of bias assessment: Show methods used to determine bias
  • Effect measures: Specify effect measures for each outcome
  • Synthesis methods: Describe all the processes involved in synthesizing the evidence/data gathered
  • Reporting bias assessment: Describe methods used to assess bias from missing results
  • Certainty assessment: Show methods used to assess confidence in the body of evidence
  • Study selection: Describe the results of the search and selection process
  • Study characteristics: Present the characteristics of each chosen study
  • Risk of bias in studies: Present assessments of risk of bias
  • Results of individual studies: Show structured tables and plots for all outcomes
  • Results of syntheses: Present results in a synthesized manner
  • Reporting biases: Present assessments of risk of bias due to missing results
  • Certainty of evidence: Present assessments of confidence in the body of evidence
  • Discussion: Provide a general interpretation
  • Registration and protocol: Provide registration information for the review
  • Support: Describe sources of financial and non-financial support
  • Competing interests: Declare any competing interests of review authors
  • Availability of data, code, and other materials: Report the availability and accessibility of data

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Preparing a systematic review is a rigorous process. The PRISMA statement clearly defines that with its 27-point checklist. You must prepare a lot of material and ensure that everything meets the expected requirements. To make this task easier, you can use literature review software like DistillerSR, which can take care of some of the processes for you. This way, you can leave some of the strenuous tasks to a computer and focus on more significant work.

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