NEW YORK NURSE: December 2008
Q.: I often hear physicians and advanced practice nurses talk about systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Are these types of research? What is the difference between the two?
A.: In general, when it comes to research, the “more is better” rule applies. This often leads to a wealth of information on a particular research question. The terms you asked about describe two different methods of synthesizing multiple studies on the same topic or clinical problem.
The primary aim of a systematic review is to search many databases to gather all the research articles on a particular topic. A group of reviewers then evaluate those studies to summarize large amounts of information. The goal is to help clinicians reach a conclusion about clinical practice that is based on the available evidence.
A meta-analysis goes beyond a systematic review since it includes a statistical analysis of the findings from many studies. The results of the studies are pooled as if they were from one big study. After special mathematical processes have been conducted, a meta-analysis will reveal the best way to care for patients based on the research that has been done to date. This conclusion is supported by statistics and is stronger than a systematic review.
Both of these methods rank highly as the best sources to turn to when thinking about using evidence in practice. Unfortunately, you will not find a systematic review or meta-analysis to respond to every topic or clinical problem.
If you hear coworkers referring to one of these kinds of documents, ask where you can access a copy and read it. If you have difficulty with some of the jargon, look up the words in a research text or ask someone who has research experience to help you navigate the article.
Melnyk, B., & Fineout-Overholt, E. (2005). Evidence-based practice in nursing & healthcare: A guide to best practice. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkens.
This is a sample of the questions NYSNA’s experts answer each day. The advice given is specific for the situation described and may not be applicable generally. If you have questions about your own work setting, it is recommended that you contact your NYSNA Nursing Representative or the Education, Practice, and Research Program, 11 Cornell Road, Latham, New York 12110-1499 or call 800-724-NYRN, ext. 282.