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Systematic Reviews

Establish a Team

Systematic reviews are a team effort! Most standards recommend, and, in some cases, require, multiple reviewers to provide the necessary expertise for a systematic review, and to help reduce bias in the search and selection process. HSL Librarians can provide guidance and assistance with the review process, and may be available as members of the review team.

Who is Involved?

Ideally, the systematic review team should include expertise in:

  • The clinical subject
  • Systematic review methods
  • Searching for evidence
  • Quantitative methods
  • Other expertise as needed

You will need at least two investigator-level team members, as some steps in the process require dual review.

Librarian Involvement

Librarians can be a great source of help for systematic reviews. They can:

  • Consult on questions involving such topics as
    • project scope
    • methods
    • databases
    • search strategies
    • selection process
    • minimizing bias
    • research management tools
    • documentation and reporting
  • Review your search strategy

They can also, depending on their availability:

  • Create and conduct the search (as a team member/co-author)
  • Write the methodology section (as a team member/co-author)
To schedule an appointment with a Health Sciences librarian to discuss your systematic review, please read our Systematic Review Policy and submit a Systematic Review Consultation Request.

Conflicts of Interest

According to the Institute of Medicine, a conflict of interest is "a financial or intellectual relationship that may impact an individual's ability to approach a scientific question with an open mind." Conflicts of interest, or perceived conflicts of interest, can damage the integrity of a systematic review's findings.

When forming a team for a systematic review, it is important to identify and evaluate potential conflicts of interest for every team member. Here are some examples of conflict of interest that should be evaluated: 

Financial 

Direct employment by a commercial organization with a financial interest in the topic being reviewed; Holding or having applied for a patent relating to topic; Receiving funding by an organization with a financial interest; Received financial support from interested sources in the past, including consultancy fees, grants, fellowships, honoraria, royalties, speaker's fees, advisory board membership; Ownership of stock related to industry

Professional

Evaluating an aspect of one's own practice; Evaluating a practice one has been responsible for developing; Involvement in primary research in the subject area of the review

Intellectual/Personal

Strongly held beliefs; Personal relationships with study authors or those with interest in topic; Desire for career advancement and recognition

 

How to manage conflicts of interest:

  • Disclosure: A conflict of interest does not necessarily preclude a researcher's participation in a systematic review, but awareness of, and transparency about, potential conflicts is essential. Anything that is or could be perceived as a conflict of interest should be explicitly disclosed. 
  • Diversity: Simply declaring a conflict of interest, however, does not always sufficiently resolve the issue. The systematic review team should consist of a majority of non-conflicted members, and conflicted members may need to be excluded from certain aspects of the review to reduce the risk of bias. For example: When a team member has authored a study related to the subject of the review, or has a personal relationship with one of the study's authors, two different team members should evaluate that study for inclusion. 
  • Exclusion from team: There are some cases where a conflict of interest does warrant the exclusion of an individual from the systematic review team. These are cases where the potential, or perceived potential, for bias as a result of the conflict would harm the credibility of the review in the eyes of its intended users.