Comparison of search strategies in systematic reviews of adverse effects to other systematic reviews

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Abstract

Background:

Research indicates that the methods used to identify data for systematic reviews of adverse effects may need to differ from other systematic reviews.

Objectives:

To compare search methods in systematic reviews of adverse effects with other reviews.

Methods:

The search methodologies in 849 systematic reviews of adverse effects were compared with other reviews.

Results:

Poor reporting of search strategies is apparent in both systematic reviews of adverse effects and other types of systematic reviews. Systematic reviews of adverse effects are less likely to restrict their searches to MEDLINE or include only randomised controlled trials (RCTs). The use of other databases is largely dependent on the topic area and the year the review was conducted, with more databases searched in more recent reviews.

Results:

Adverse effects search terms are used by 72% of reviews and despite recommendations only two reviews report using floating subheadings.

Conclusions:

The poor reporting of search strategies in systematic reviews is universal, as is the dominance of searching MEDLINE. However, reviews of adverse effects are more likely to include a range of study designs (not just RCTs) and search beyond MEDLINE.

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