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A recent study by Page et al. (PLoS Med. 2016;13(5):e1002028) claimed that increasing numbers of reviews are being published and many are poorly-conducted and reported. The aim of the present study was to assess how well reporting standards of systematic reviews produced in a Health Technology Assessment (HTA) context compare with reporting in Cochrane and other ‘non-Cochrane’ systematic reviews from the same years (2004 and 2014), as reported by Page et al. (PLoS Med. 2016;13(5):e1002028).
All relevant UK HTA programme systematic reviews published in 2004 and 2014 were identified. After piloting of the form, two reviewers each extracted relevant data on conduct and reporting from these reviews. These data were compared with data for Cochrane and “non-Cochrane” systematic reviews, as published by Page et al. (PLoS Med. 2016;13(5):e1002028). All data were tabulated and summarized.
There were 30 UK HTA programme systematic reviews and 300 other systematic reviews, including Cochrane reviews (n = 45). The percentage of HTA reviews with required elements of conduct and reporting was frequently very similar to Cochrane and much higher than all other systematic reviews, e.g. availability of protocols (90, 98 and 16% respectively); the specification of study design criteria (100, 100, 79%); the reporting of outcomes (100, 100, 78%), quality assessment (100, 100, 70%); the searching of trial registries for unpublished data (70, 62, 19%); reporting of reasons for excluding studies (91, 91 and 70%) and reporting of authors’ conflicts of interests (100, 100, 87%). HTA reviews only compared less favourably with Cochrane and other reviews in assessments of publication bias.
UK HTA systematic reviews are often produced within a specific policy-making context. This context has implications for timelines, tools and resources. However, UK HTA systematic reviews still tend to present standards of conduct and reporting equivalent to “gold standard” Cochrane reviews and superior to systematic reviews more generally.