Rapid reviews are of increasing importance within health technology assessment due to time and resource constraints. There are many rapid review methods available although there is little guidance as to the most suitable methods. We present three case studies employing differing methods to suit the evidence base for each review and outline some issues to consider when selecting an appropriate method.
Three recently completed systematic review short reports produced for the UK National Institute for Health Research were examined. Different approaches to rapid review methods were used in the three reports which were undertaken to inform the commissioning of services within the NHS and to inform future trial design. We describe the methods used, the reasoning behind the choice of methods and explore the strengths and weaknesses of each method.
Rapid review methods were chosen to meet the needs of the review and each review had distinctly different challenges such as heterogeneity in terms of populations, interventions, comparators and outcome measures (PICO) and/or large numbers of relevant trials. All reviews included at least 10 randomised controlled trials (RCTs), each with numerous included outcomes. For the first case study (sexual health interventions), very diverse studies in terms of PICO were included. P-values and summary information only were presented due to substantial heterogeneity between studies and outcomes measured. For the second case study (premature ejaculation treatments), there were over 100 RCTs but also several existing systematic reviews. Data for meta-analyses were extracted directly from existing systematic reviews with new RCT data added where available. For the final case study (cannabis cessation therapies), studies included a wide range of interventions and considerable variation in study populations and outcomes. A brief summary of the key findings for each study was presented and narrative synthesis used to summarise results for each pair of interventions compared.
Rapid review methods need to be chosen to meet both the nature of the evidence base of a review and the challenges presented by the included studies. Appropriate methods should be chosen after an assessment of the evidence base.