The Quality of Systematic Reviews in Head and Neck Microsurgery: A Perspective from Plastic Surgery and Otolaryngology

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In recent years, there has been a push to publish higher level of evidence studies in medicine, particularly in plastic surgery. Well-conducted systematic reviews are considered the strongest level of evidence in medicine, recently becoming the key process indicators for quality delivery. A varying quality of systematic reviews, however, has led to concerns of their validity in clinical decision-making. We perform a quality analysis of systematic reviews published in head and neck microsurgery by the surgical specialties of plastic surgery and otolaryngology.

Materials and Methods

An evaluation of systematic reviews published on microsurgery in 13 high-impact surgical journals was conducted by searching PubMed and Scopus. Two authors independently performed searches, screened for eligibility, and extracted data from included articles. Discrepancies were resolved by discussion and consensus. Assessment of Multiple Systematic Reviews (AMSTAR) criteria were used to assess methodological quality.


The initial database search retrieved 166 articles. After removing duplicates, screening titles and abstracts, 26 articles remained for full text review. Seven did not focus on head and neck microsurgery and were further excluded, leaving 19 systematic reviews for final analysis. Of those, 10 systematic reviews were published by otolaryngology, and 9 were published by plastic surgery. Median AMSTAR score was 8 for otolaryngology, 7 for plastic surgery, and 8 overall, reflecting “fair to good” quality. The number of systematic reviews on head and neck microsurgery markedly increased over time. Of note, both the AMSTAR score and the number of systematic reviews published by plastic surgery have steadily increased from 2014 to 2016, whereas those published by otolaryngology have remained relatively stable since 2010.


Our review shows a trend toward publishing more systematic reviews. The increasing quantity and quality of systematic reviews published by plastic surgeons indicates recognition in the need for higher levels of evidence in plastic surgery, as well as growing interest and advances in microsurgery. Given these trends, familiarity with quality assessment guidelines, such as AMSTAR, will remain important in providing a basis for building relevant value-based quality measures.

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