Rapid Review Methodology for Synthesizing Evidence and Reviewing Literature

Rapid Review vs. Systematic Review - Rapid Review: Timeline of 1-6 months; Limited number and complixity of key questions; Abbreviated search; Narrow criteria that may be redefined, single reviewer; Desrcriptive summary of findings, charateristics of studies, may include critical appraisal - Systematic Review: Timeline of 1+years; Comprehensive key questions; Sensitive, systematic search; Inclusive, predefined criteria, dual and full-text review; Qualitative/quantitative synthesis of findings, meta-analysis
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By Marija Kelber, Ph.D.
December 4, 2017

When a multitude of research studies are conducted on the same topic, a method used to summarize and draw conclusions from them is called evidence synthesis. A gold standard of evidence synthesis – a systematic review – involves carefully formulating research questions, searching for and selecting research studies, assessing the quality of evidence, summarizing the findings, and interpreting the evidence. This methodology minimizes bias and results in a thorough and rigorous product that can inform new policy and answer clinical questions.

Systematic reviews, however, are often time-consuming and costly, take up to several years to complete and require a substantial amount of effort from a team of researchers. In response to policy makers’ need to receive evidence in a more timely fashion, a new suite of products known as rapid reviews have recently emerged.

Rapid reviews involve strategic modification of the systematic review methodology in order to synthesize evidence more quickly. A defining feature of a rapid review is the stakeholder’s need. A dialogue with a policy maker or a decision maker in need of information determines the number and the scope of the research questions. Instead of searching multiple databases for the research studies to include in the review, researchers conducting rapid reviews may decide to search only a limited number of the most pertinent databases.

Typically, rapid reviews take about three months to complete and involve searching an average of three databases. Rapid reviews may also rely only on a single reviewer to extract data from a collection of studies and may not include an assessment of the quality of the evidence. Though these procedures are more vulnerable to biases, studies comparing rapid reviews to systematic reviews find that the two evidence synthesis methods typically reach similar conclusions.

The PHCoE Evidence Synthesis and Dissemination team recently conducted a rapid review on the effects of provider panel size on burnout and quality of care. The team conducted a systematic search of two databases and identified close to 1700 articles that were screened against predetermined exclusion criteria by a single reviewer. This resulted in 13 articles that were qualitatively synthesized. We identified no randomized controlled trials, indicating that the quality of evidence was pretty low. Though the results have to be interpreted with caution, most studies consistently showed that caseload size was correlated with burnout. A team of nine researchers and research assistants took close to a month to conduct the rapid review and produce a report.

To learn more about our evidence synthesis work, visit the Evidence Synthesis & Dissemination page.

Dr. Marija Kelber is a contracted health research methodologist at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence. She has a doctorate in social psychology and has conducted research on emotions and group dynamics as predictors of ethnic conflict, intergroup aggression, and gang violence.

The views expressed in Clinician's Corner blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Psychological Health Center of Excellence or Department of Defense.

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