About Systematic Reviews

The Difference Between a Rapid Review vs Systematic Review

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Rigorous protocols and policies are put into place to ensure the safety and efficacy of the healthcare products sold to the public. Decisions about these products are never arbitrary and are made only after careful evaluation and scrutiny. Historically, many health policies and decisions relied on evidence-based results, evaluated through systematic reviews. However, systematic reviews tend to be quite resource-intensive and time-consuming, which can create a serious bottleneck when there is a new product that addresses an unmet need.

Health policymakers and system implementers are often faced with situations that require critical decisions to be made within the shortest time possible. This makes systematic reviews less practical. Fortunately, rapid review methods are helping to streamline this process. In addition to rapid reviews, there are several other types of review methods that can help move the review and approval process along. Understanding the differences between a peer review vs systematic review and an integrative review vs systematic review is essential to making the right choice for your research. Each of these types of reviews comes with its own advantages and drawbacks. The use of a review type depends on the research needs of the author and the place-time attributes of the intended research.

Systematic Review

A systematic review employs reproducible, analytical approaches to identify, collect, choose, and critically evaluate data from multiple studies that can be included in a scientific review. If you are looking for a systematic review example, you can find all you need to know in the link.

A systematic review seeks to answer a specific predefined research question that should be carefully formulated to guide the review. Mostly the PICO model is used to formulate a concise research question. The research question helps in determining the eligibility criteria used. The review type tells the researcher how to gather information from specified research, and present findings.

Secondly, a systematic review employs a complete, reproducible search strategy for behavioral, social, and policy research to help you identify relevant literature. It also evaluates the results for quality as well as for inclusion or exclusion.
Systematic reviews are also expected to present impartial, balanced summaries of the results for quick implementation by policymakers. This type of review normally involves a group of researchers evaluating a complex research question using existing studies. As mentioned above, systematic reviews can be time-consuming and can take several months or years to complete.

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Rapid Review

A rapid review is the synthesis of evidence designed to provide more timely data for speedy decision-making. Compared to a systematic review, a rapid review takes a much shorter time to complete. Although the approaches used in rapid reviews vary greatly, they usually take less than five weeks. With rapid reviews, there are short deadlines because they omit several phases of the review process that are essential in systematic reviews. The time-decompression aspect of rapid reviews makes them an attractive alternative.

A rapid review is mostly used to:

  • explore a new or developing research topic
  • update a previous review, or
  • evaluate a critical topic

It’s also used to reevaluate existing facts about a policy or practice that was based on systematic-review methods. In rapid reviews, several methods are used to simplify or omit some of the processes used in systematic reviews, including reducing databases, allocating one reviewer for each review stage, omitting or minimizing the use of gray literature (information produced outside traditional publishing and distribution channels), and narrowing the scope of the review.

In terms of impartiality, rapid reviews may be more prone to bias than systematic reviews. The use of several methods stated above may lead to exclusion of studies that may have been impactful in developing a consistent conclusion. The use of these methods develops a certain scope, which constraints the results of a rapid review of that specific scope. However, the extent of this restriction is still unknown. Although many health policymakers and system implementers have embraced rapid reviews, some stakeholders in academia have expressed their reservations, arguing that rapid reviews are “quick and dirty”. But this shouldn’t negate their usefulness, as there is a time and place where a rapid review is exactly what’s needed.

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