Frequently Asked Questions About Our Systematic Reviews

What is a systematic review?

Systematic reviews are comprehensive reports that aim to evaluate and summarize existing research evidence to advance our understanding of the effectiveness and safety of health care interventions. Systematic reviews differ from other reviews based on the explicit and transparent methodology used to identify, appraise, and synthesize research studies to answer specified key questions. Best practices for conducting systematic reviews have been outlined by the IOM [ Reference 1 ], Cochrane, and other organizations.

What is an evidence map?

Evidence mapping aims to systematically examine the extent and range of the existing research landscape on a broadly defined topic area in order to identify knowledge gaps and inform further study.  This approach is often used when it may not be feasible or appropriate to specify key questions, as in a systematic review, due to the large volume and heterogeneity of current research.  An evidence map may highlight narrower key areas within the topic for subsequent systematic review.

How are systematic reviews used?

Systematic reviews are a key component in the knowledge translation process and the practice of evidence-based medicine. Systematic reviews can be used by front-line clinicians, as well as health care decision-makers to determine the most effective treatments or methods of care delivery.  Clinical guideline developers use systematic reviews to translate research study findings into evidence-based health care guidelines that promote optimal clinical care. Systematic reviews are also used to identify gaps in the evidence base to inform further research on particular topics.

How does PHCoE produce systematic reviews?

Systematic reviews are produced internally by a team of skilled PHCoE investigators or by a sponsored Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC).  Review topics are solicited and identified from key stakeholder groups and other sources throughout the year.  Depending on the scope of the topic, resource demands, and goals for the final report, a topic may be refined for development into a systematic review or other type of evidence synthesis report.  Many of our systematic reviews are conducted in partnership with EPCs to effectively manage potential biases and intensive resource demands.

What is an Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC)?

EPCs are designated by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Evidence-based Practice Program to produce high-quality, unbiased evidence reviews on a spectrum of clinical and health services topics.  PHCoE currently sponsors a team of RAND Corporation researchers at the Southern California EPC to conduct a federally-funded series of systematic reviews focused on topics aimed at improving psychological health care practices in the MHS.