Systematic reviews for informed decision making: From shopping to healthcare research

Knowledge is power BUT either you are shopping online or you are working on a research project in your university/company, knowledge is not easy to find or cheap to gain.

If you have tried to purchase a product and spent hours if not days and months doing ‘research’, you’d know what we mean. Here by ‘re-search’ you usually mean ‘search’ and ‘search again’.

Since commercial companies are aware of your efforts, they usually try to bombard you with ‘selective’, ‘wrong’, ‘ambiguous’, or ‘incomplete’ information so as a judge what would you do when one says [in their heart and mind]:

I Swear NOT to Tell the Truth, Tell Part of the Truth and Mix It with Lies

Well, your decision making will be ‘biased’ towards what they want. That’s why you try to be ‘systematic’ before buying a product:

  • You search multiple websites;
  • You read customer reviews;
  • You check five-star ratings;
  • You compare the features and prices;
  • You check the guarantee, return/refund policy;
  • You ask your colleagues, friends and families, and considering all these information …
  • You finally decide to drink a cuppa coffee/tea, give it a time and buy the product 60% off in Boxing day!

Don’t be surprised if I tell you that you can follow a career in research and you will find all the shopping steps to be similar to a medical research/literature review!

When as university, you usually are being asked to do coursework which is kind of ‘research’ but not the rigor kind so you usually don’t dare to publish it or share it publicly. Later, when you start a career, you are still looking for the knowledge to make good or informed decisions. Even if you become a policy maker, these research will never stop because knowledge is power.

What makes the process of this ‘systematic’ re-search difficult is that first, you do not have time and second even if you have time you do not have the skills to run a proper and comprehensive research on existing knowledge or even existing ignorance [fear of unknown]!

If you miss a relevant work in your research, you can end up with re-inventing the wheel if you are lucky or a rectangle wheel if you are less lucky or be accused of stealing someone else’s wheel and that’s bad luck! Why leave it to luck if there is a way to get it right?

Systematic reviews start with a well-written question followed by systematic search in multiple resources seems to be the the best tool you ever had to collect and analyse all the relevant information to make an informed decision. However, since systematic reviewing can be a time-consuming and resource-intensive process, there are at least 48 types of literature reviews with some ‘systematic’ elements embedded in them. Yesterday, we discovered 49th type! Each type of literature review fits a certain purpose so don’t you dare to think the literature reviews are only ‘narrative’ or ‘systematic’. Such classification has unforgivable consequences including time and money waste if not lives.

This is just an introductory blog, we will write more soon


Published by Farhad

Medical Information Scientist

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