Research Synthesis Methods

Risk of bias in overviews of reviews: a scoping review of methodological guidance and four‐item checklist

Journal Article

Objective

To assess the conditions under which employing an overview of systematic reviews is likely to lead to a high risk of bias.

Study Design

To synthesise existing guidance concerning overview practice, a scoping review was conducted. Four electronic databases were searched with a pre‐specified strategy (PROSPERO 2015:CRD42015027592) ending October 2015. Included studies needed to describe or develop overview methodology. Data were narratively synthesised to delineate areas highlighted as outstanding challenges or where methodological recommendations conflict.

Results

Twenty‐four papers met the inclusion criteria. There is emerging debate regarding overlapping systematic reviews; systematic review scope; quality of included research; updating; and synthesizing and reporting results. While three functions for overviews have been proposed—identify gaps, explore heterogeneity, summarize evidence—overviews cannot perform the first; are unlikely to achieve the second and third simultaneously; and can only perform the third under specific circumstances. Namely, when identified systematic reviews meet the following four conditions: (1) include primary trials that do not substantially overlap, (2) match overview scope, (3) are of high methodological quality, and (4) are up‐to‐date.

Conclusion

Considering the intended function of proposed overviews with the corresponding methodological conditions may improve the quality of this burgeoning publication type. Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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