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A descriptive analysis of overviews of reviews published between 2000 and 2011. Open Access


Author or creator
Hartling, L.
Chisholm, A.
Thomson, D.
Dryden, D. M.
Additional contributors
systematic reviews
child health
decision making
Type of item
Journal Article (Published)
Background: Overviews of systematic reviews compile data from multiple systematic reviews (SRs) and are a new method of evidence synthesis. Objectives: To describe the methodological approaches in overviews of interventions. Design: Descriptive study. Methods: We searched 4 databases from 2000 to July 2011; we handsearched Evidence-based Child Health: A Cochrane Review Journal. We defined an overview as a study that: stated a clear objective; examined an intervention; used explicit methods to identify SRs; collected and synthesized outcome data from the SRs; and intended to include only SRs. We did not restrict inclusion by population characteristics (e.g., adult or children only). Two researchers independently screened studies and applied eligibility criteria. One researcher extracted data with verification by a second. We conducted a descriptive analysis. Results: From 2,245 citations, 75 overviews were included. The number of overviews increased from 1 in 2000 to 14 in 2010. The interventions were pharmacological (n = 20, 26.7%), non-pharmacological (n = 26, 34.7%), or both (n = 29, 38.7%). Inclusion criteria were clearly stated in 65 overviews. Thirty-three (44%) overviews searched at least 2 databases. The majority reported the years and databases searched (n = 46, 61%), and provided key words (n = 58, 77%). Thirty-nine (52%) overviews included Cochrane SRs only. Two reviewers independently screened and completed full text review in 29 overviews (39%). Methods of data extraction were reported in 45 (60%). Information on quality of individual studies was extracted from the original SRs in 27 (36%) overviews. Quality assessment of the SRs was performed in 28 (37%) overviews; at least 9 different tools were used. Quality of the body of evidence was assessed in 13 (17%) overviews. Most overviews provided a narrative or descriptive analysis of the included SRs. One overview conducted indirect analyses and the other conducted mixed treatment comparisons. Publication bias was discussed in 18 (24%) overviews. Conclusions: This study shows considerable variation in the methods used for overviews. There is a need for methodological rigor and consistency in overviews, as well as empirical evidence to support the methods employed.
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Citation for previous publication
Hartling, L., Chisholm, A., Thomson, D., & Dryden, D. M. (2012). A descriptive analysis of overviews of reviews published between 2000 and 2011. PLoS One, 7(11), e49667. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049667.
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