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.
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.