Integration of existing systematic reviews into new reviews: Identification of guidance needs

Karen A. Robinson, Evelyn P. Whitlock, Maya E. Oneil, Johanna K. Anderson, Lisa Hartling, Donna M. Dryden, Mary Butler, Sydne J. Newberry, Melissa McPheeters, Nancy D. Berkman, Jennifer S. Lin, Stephanie Chang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Background: An exponential increase in the number of systematic reviews published, and constrained resources for new reviews, means that there is an urgent need for guidance on explicitly and transparently integrating existing reviews into new systematic reviews. The objectives of this paper are: 1) to identify areas where existing guidance may be adopted or adapted, and 2) to suggest areas for future guidance development. Methods: We searched documents and websites from healthcare focused systematic review organizations to identify and, where available, to summarize relevant guidance on the use of existing systematic reviews. We conducted informational interviews with members of Evidence-based Practice Centers (EPCs) to gather experiences in integrating existing systematic reviews, including common issues and challenges, as well as potential solutions. Results: There was consensus among systematic review organizations and the EPCs about some aspects of incorporating existing systematic reviews into new reviews. Current guidance may be used in assessing the relevance of prior reviews and in scanning references of prior reviews to identify studies for a new review. However, areas of challenge remain. Areas in need of guidance include how to synthesize, grade the strength of, and present bodies of evidence composed of primary studies and existing systematic reviews. For instance, empiric evidence is needed regarding how to quality check data abstraction and when and how to use study-level risk of bias assessments from prior reviews. Conclusions: There remain areas of uncertainty for how to integrate existing systematic reviews into new reviews. Methods research and consensus processes among systematic review organizations are needed to develop guidance to address these challenges.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number60
JournalSystematic reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 23 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors gratefully acknowledge the following individuals for their contributions to this project: Jeanne-Marie Guise, MD, MPH for providing content edits; Suchitra Iyer, Ph.D. for content editing; Rose Relevo, MLIS, M.S. for performing the gray literature search; Timothy Wilt, MD, MPH for conducting interviews; and the Evidence-based Practice Center staff for participating in interviews to share their expertise and insight. This project was funded under Contract Nos. HHSA290201200006i, HHSA290201200007i, HHSA290201200008i, HHSA290201200009i, HHSA290201200013i, HHSA290201200015i, HHSA290201200016i, and HHSA290201200004C from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This manuscript, and the work from which it is derived, was commissioned by the Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), through contracts to multiple Evidence-based Practice Centers and the Scientific Resource Center. The authors of this report are responsible for its content. Statements in the report should not be construed as endorsement by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Robinson et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.


  • evidence-based practice centers
  • systematic review methods
  • using existing reviews


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