Starting a systematic literature review (SLR), particularly for the first time, may be an overwhelming task. As its designation indicates, it requires a systematic approach, in order to ensure that all the relevant literature addressing the research question at hand is covered and appropriately summarized.
SLRs are particularly helpful for clinicians, who have a question based on their clinical practice and want to obtain the best evidence based answer. The large and increasing amount of existing literature makes the life of a clinician difficult when trying to search by him/herself for the answer based on the original studies. An SLR may thus be an efficient way to get the answer, by condensing hundreds of studies into a good summary. They are also of the basis, together with expert opinion, of diagnostic and/or management/treatment recommendations.
The first step of an SLR is always to properly formulate the research question, in a way that the literature covering the topic can be searched. The classic approach is the PICO framework, in which the formulated question includes the different elements guiding the literature search, namely the Population of interest, the Intervention to which patients are exposed, the Comparator against which the effect of the intervention is to be compared and the Outcomes on which the assessment of the intervention will rely and in which the SLR will focus (e.g. efficacy, safety outcomes, etc).
A crucial aspect when reviewing the literature is the risk of bias assessment. Studies should be judged for their methodological quality so that one can interpret their findings accordingly. If a study is methodologically not sound, then we know that it will not be very helpful in answering the research question and, most important, this cannot be ignored when performing an SLR. This risk of bias assessment also requires some knowledge of important epidemiology and biostatistics concepts, which are needed to correctly understand how a study is conducted.
These and other steps contribute to shaping an SLR. Challenges involved when performing an SLR will be discussed in detail in this presentation, as well as the different steps of an SLR and the most critical aspects that should be considered. Tips from experiences with SLRs will be shared. This should ultimately encourage (young) clinicians and researchers on where to start when embarking on an SLR challenge, but hopefully also on how proceed with and bring to an end a successful and informative SLR.
Disclosure of Interest None declared