Systematic Review: A Primer
Introduction: What is Systematic Review?

This primer presents an overview of the systematic review process. It is intended to facilitate initiation of the planning necessary prior to beginning a systematic review.

As a product, a systematic review is a summary of available medical research on a given topic. As a process, a systematic review is conducted, with the rigorous characteristics of any other scientific research, to identify, appraise, select and synthesize all high quality research evidence. The systematic review process follows a predetermined, transparent plan; with a research methodology of its own that can be replicated by other reviewers and is also subject to appraisal.

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It’s worthwhile to point out that a systematic review is different from a literature review. A literature review is a review of available materials relevant to a research question. It brings the reader up to date with current literature on a topic and places a research in context in a specific field, making a case for the importance of the research. On the other hand, a systematic review assesses the results of all previous research on a specific question to come up with better medical evidence. While a literature review is a part of research often associated with academic papers such as a thesis or dissertation, a systematic review is a type of research in its own right.

Important decisions in clinical practice or in the design of healthcare policy should be based on best evidence from research. Due to the vast amount of research that continues to be published, it can be difficult and time-consuming for practitioners and policy makers to find all the evidence addressing a specific question and to draw unbiased conclusions. Systematic reviews attempt to capture all the evidence that is of similar methodological quality and that can be compared to draw these conclusions.

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