Making our best health care evidence even better

February 22, 2011

An international group is encouraging health researchers around the world to publicly register and provide details about planned systematic reviews in an effort to improve health decision-making and the systematic review process.

Systematic reviews are considered the strongest form of medical evidence because they provide exhaustive summaries of all studies on a given topic, often with a rigorous statistical analysis of pooled results. They are the best tool available for answering controversial health questions and for identifying rare health associations such as drug side effects. Studies have shown, however, that not all systematic reviews are conducted to the highest standards and efforts are being wasted with redundant and unpublished reviews.

In an effort to improve this process, researchers from the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD) at the University of York in the U.K., the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (affiliated with the University of Ottawa), the U.K. Cochrane Centre, the World Health Organization and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are now encouraging colleagues to register key information from their systematic review protocols on a new website:

This initiative was launched at an international systematic review conference recently held in Vancouver, Canada and organized by Dr. David Moher, Senior Scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Ottawa. The conference was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Alberta Innovates, while development of the register itself was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in the U.K.

“Systematic reviews are the most influential kind of health research study, so it is incredibly important that these reviews are conducted to the highest standards,” said Dr. Moher. “By publicly registering systematic review protocols, we should be able to increase the quality of these reviews so that we can make more informed health decisions and live longer, healthier lives.”

“A prospective register of systematic reviews submitted at the protocol stage will increase transparency and guard against selective reporting; making it obvious if the research that is published differs from what was planned at the outset,” said Professor Lesley Stewart, Director of CRD. “We have been delighted by the enthusiastic international response to the development of PROSPERO, having elicited support for registration from NIHR, CIHR, INAHTA, NICE, the Cochrane and Campbell Collaborations and the Joanna Briggs initiative. This is truly an international collaborative effort.”

Principal contributors to the development of PROSPERO, include: Alison Booth and Lesley Stewart of CRD; Mike Clarke of the UK Cochrane Centre; Davina Ghersi of the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform; David Moher of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the University of Ottawa; and Mark Petticrew of the Public and Environmental Health Research Unit at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

About the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) is the research arm of The Ottawa Hospital and is an affiliated institute of the University of Ottawa, closely associated with the University’s Faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences. The OHRI includes more than 1,500 scientists, clinical investigators, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staff conducting research to improve the understanding, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human disease.

Media contact
Jennifer Paterson
Director, Communications and Public Relations
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
613-798-5555 ext. 73325