Rapid review programs to support health care and policy decision making: a descriptive analysis of processes and methods

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Polisena, Julie
Garritty, Chantelle
Kamel, Chris
Stevens, Adrienne
Abou-Setta, Ahmed M
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Abstract Background Health care decision makers often need to make decisions in limited timeframes and cannot await the completion of a full evidence review. Rapid reviews (RRs), utilizing streamlined systematic review methods, are increasingly being used to synthesize the evidence with a shorter turnaround time. Our primary objective was to describe the processes and methods used internationally to produce RRs. In addition, we sought to understand the underlying themes associated with these programs. Methods We contacted representatives of international RR programs from a broad realm in health care to gather information about the methods and processes used to produce RRs. The responses were summarized narratively to understand the characteristics associated with their processes and methods. The summaries were compared and contrasted to highlight potential themes and trends related to the different RR programs. Results Twenty-nine international RR programs were included in our sample with a broad organizational representation from academia, government, research institutions, and non-for-profit organizations. Responses revealed that the main objectives for RRs were to inform decision making with regards to funding health care technologies, services and policy, and program development. Central themes that influenced the methods used by RR programs, and report type and dissemination were the imposed turnaround time to complete a report, resources available, the complexity and sensitivity of the research topics, and permission from the requestor. Conclusions Our study confirmed that there is no standard approach to conduct RRs. Differences in processes and methods across programs may be the result of the novelty of RR methods versus other types of evidence syntheses, customization of RRs for various decision makers, and definition of ‘rapid’ by organizations, since it impacts both the timelines and the evidence synthesis methods. Future research should investigate the impact of current RR methods and reporting to support informed health care decision making, the effects of potential biases that may be introduced with streamlined methods, and the effectiveness of RR reporting guidelines on transparency.
Systematic Reviews. 2015 Mar 14;4(1):26