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Report on the July 25 NIH Webinar on Systematic Reviews, Part of the “Medicine: Mind the Gap” Seminar Series

Posted by on August 25th, 2016 Posted in: General, Training

by Kathy Zeblisky
Medical Library Manager
Phoenix Children’s Hospital
Phoenix, AZ

On July 25 the NIH presented an informative and interesting webinar as part of its Medicine: Mind the Gap series. The session recording, presentation slides, and extensive reference list are available by visiting The Opportunities and Challenges of Using Systematic Reviews To Summarize Knowledge About “What Works” in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, featuring presenter Kay Dickersin, M.A., Ph.D. This seminar series “explores research design, measurement, intervention, data analysis, and other methods of interest to prevention science.”

Dr. Dickersin is Professor of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. At Johns Hopkins, she also serves as the Director for the Center for Clinical Trials and Evidence Synthesis External Website Policy. She is also Director of the U.S. Cochrane Center (USCC), one of 13 Centers worldwide participating in The Cochrane Collaboration External Website Policy. Dr. Dickersin presented a thorough overview of systematic reviews and the process of performing a systematic review. She believes “systematic reviews of existing research hold the promise of scientifically summarizing “what works” at any point in time.” But there are also many challenges for developing systematic reviews, using them, and appraising them. The presentation covered the basics of defining a systematic review, why they are important, the steps in a systematic review, the risks of bias, the teamwork involved and much more. One of the most interesting parts of her talk covered the published standards on how to conduct and how to report a systematic review. These include Methodological Expectations of Cochrane Intervention Reviews (MECIR), The Institute of Medicine (IOM) Standards: Finding What Works in Health Care Standards for Systematic Reviews, and Clinical Practice Guidelines We Can Trust, also from IOM.

To address challenges of reporting inconsistencies she discussed and advocates for Core Outcomes Measures (The COMET Initiative) which outline the minimum that should be measured and reported in all clinical trials of a specific condition. This would make it easier for the results of Clinical Trials to be compared. PROMIS® (Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System) is another set of standardized measures that could improve consistency of research results. Another interesting section was her review of what to search when performing systematic reviews. She covered The Cochrane Library, The Campbell Library, The Community Guide, What Works Clearinghouse, the EPA’s IRIS program, and PubMed Health.

One of the most rewarding parts of the session was in the Q&A section. Dr. Dickersin was asked if she ever collaborated with health sciences librarians and she responded that “health sciences librarians are really important parts of any systematic review,” and stated she has taught with them for more than twenty years. She praised our profession and said “they know what is out there,” and boasted that if the librarians were good they follow blogs and listservs to acquire new knowledge about how to perform systematic reviews. She also reported that the top 10 papers at MLA 2016 were about systematic reviews. This was a very worthwhile webinar, running just under one hour. It is a good companion to Connie Schardt’s August 10, 2016, MLA webinar Are All Systematic Reviews Created Equal?.

Image of the author ABOUT Alan Carr
Alan Carr is the Associate Director, National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Pacific Southwest Region, based at UCLA.

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