UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Managing overlap of primary study results across systematic reviews: practical considerations for authors of overviews of reviews Lunny, Carole; Pieper, Dawid; Thabet, Pierre; Kanji, Salmaan


Background Overviews often identify and synthesise a large number of systematic reviews on the same topic, which is likely to lead to overlap (i.e. duplication) in primary studies across the reviews. Using a primary study result multiple times in the same analysis overstates its sample size and number of events, falsely leading to greater precision in the analysis. This paper aims to: (a) describe types of overlapping data that arise from the same primary studies reported across multiple reviews, (b) describe methods to identify and explain overlap of primary study data, and (c) present six case studies illustrating different approaches to manage overlap. Methods We first updated the search in PubMed for methods from the MOoR framework relating to overlap of primary studies. One author screened the studies titles and abstracts, and any full-text articles retrieved, extracted methods data relating to overlap of primary studies and mapped it to the overlap methods from the MOoR framework. We also describe six case studies as examples of overviews that use specific overlap methods across the steps in the conduct of an overview. For each case study, we discuss potential methodological implications in terms of limitations, efficiency, usability, and resource use. Results Nine methods studies were found and mapped to the methods identified by the MOoR framework to address overlap. Overlap methods were mapped across four steps in the conduct of an overview – the eligibility criteria step, the data extraction step, the assessment of risk of bias step, and the synthesis step. Our overview case studies used multiple methods to reduce overlap at different steps in the conduct of an overview. Conclusions Our study underlines that there is currently no standard methodological approach to deal with overlap in primary studies across reviews. The level of complexity when dealing with overlap can vary depending on the yield, trends and patterns of the included literature and the scope of the overview question. Choosing a method might be dependent on the number of included reviews and their primary studies. Gaps in evaluation of methods to address overlap were found and further investigation in this area is needed.

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