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Systematic review and meta-analyses (SRMA) represent the highest quality of evidence of the effects of interventions and have the capacity to usefully inform clinical decisions, reduce research waste and direct policy making.1–4 Interventional SRMA often amalgamate the results of multiple randomised controlled trials (RCTs) to determine the magnitude of the estimate of the effect for a chosen intervention and to examine variation among study outcomes (heterogeneity).5 As such they represent the highest level of evidence to inform clinicians on the usefulness of a given treatment. Of course, the robustness of SRMA findings is dependent on the quality of the trials that have been pooled. The aim of this two-part Educational Editorial Series is to outline a process of scrutiny and analysis for SRMA to facilitate answering the important question ‘Should this SRMA change my practice?’. An understanding of key features of SRMA which have been outlined in related BJSM Educational Editorials is needed by clinicians in order to make this decision.2 6–10 Here, we present a worked example for clinicians illustrating some important considerations when reading an interventional SRMA. Specifically, we highlight the need to consider the pooling of comparators, clinical diversity, comparisons to active control, risk of bias and confidence in the results when interpreting interventional SRMA findings.
The example SRMA
The example SRMA investigated the efficacy of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections for tendinopathy.11 Based on data extracted from 16 RCTs (see online supplementary file 1 for a list of references), the authors reported a moderate treatment effect in favour of PRP with a standard mean difference (SMD) of 0.47 (95% CI 0.22 to 0.72, p<0.001). Part 1 of this Educational Editorial series demonstrated issues of methodological reporting, transparency and reproducibility which undermined the trustworthiness of this result and we presented a revised estimate of treatment effect of …
Contributors All authors contributed to the inception of the research idea. MJT, MCM and MKB performed the independent data extraction. WG provided oversight to the data extraction and associated disputes. MJT, WG and MCM performed the statistical analysis with oversight from PC and MB. All authors contributed to drafting/review of manuscript. MKB = Matthew K Bagg; MB = Max K Bulsara
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent for publication Not required.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.