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The online version of this article (https://doi.org/10.1186/s12874-018-0493-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Systematic reviews (SRs) in the field of neuropathic pain (NeuP) are increasingly important for decision-making. However, methodological flaws in SRs can reduce the validity of conclusions. Hence, it is important to assess the methodological quality of NeuP SRs critically. Additionally, it remains unclear which assessment tool should be used. We studied the methodological quality of SRs published in the field of NeuP and compared two assessment tools.
We systematically searched 5 electronic databases to identify SRs of randomized controlled trials of interventions for NeuP available up to March 2015. Two independent reviewers assessed the methodological quality of the studies using the Assessment of Multiple Systematic Reviews (AMSTAR) and the revised AMSTAR (R-AMSTAR) tools. The scores were converted to percentiles and ranked into 4 grades to allow comparison between the two checklists. Gwet’s AC1 coefficient was used for interrater reliability assessment.
The 97 included SRs had a wide range of methodological quality scores (AMSTAR median (IQR): 6 (5–8) vs. R-AMSTAR median (IQR): 30 (26–35)). The overall agreement score between the 2 raters was 0.62 (95% CI 0.39–0.86) for AMSTAR and 0.62 (95% CI 0.53–0.70) for R-AMSTAR. The 31 Cochrane systematic reviews (CSRs) were consistently ranked higher than the 66 non-Cochrane systematic reviews (NCSRs). The analysis of individual domains showed the best compliance in a comprehensive literature search (item 3) on both checklists. The results for the domain that was the least compliant differed: conflict of interest (item 11) was the item most poorly reported on AMSTAR vs. publication bias assessment (item 10) on R-AMSTAR. A high positive correlation between the total AMSTAR and R-AMSTAR scores for all SRs, as well as for CSRs and NCSRs, was observed.
The methodological quality of analyzed SRs in the field of NeuP was not optimal, and CSRs had a higher quality than NCSRs. Both AMSTAR and R-AMSTAR tools produced comparable quality ratings. Our results point out to weaknesses in the methodology of existing SRs on interventions for the management NeuP and call for future improvement by better adherence to analyzed quality checklists, either AMSTAR or R-AMSTAR.