The refinement of topics for systematic reviews: Lessons and recommendations from the Effective Health Care Program

David I. Buckley, Mohammed T. Ansari, Mary Butler, Clara Soh, Christine S. Chang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Objectives: The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Effective Health Care Program conducts systematic reviews of health-care topics nominated by stakeholders. Topics undergo refinement to ensure relevant questions of appropriate scope and useful reviews. Input from key informants, experts, and a literature scan informs changes in the nominated topic. AHRQ convened a work group to assess approaches and develop recommendations for topic refinement. Study Design and Setting: Work group members experienced in topic refinement generated a list of questions and guiding principles relevant to the refinement process. They discussed each issue and reached agreement on recommendations. Results: Topics should address important health-care questions or dilemmas, consider stakeholder priorities and values, reflect the state of the science, and be consistent with systematic review research methods. Guiding principles of topic refinement are fidelity to the nomination, relevance, research feasibility, responsiveness to stakeholder inputs, reduced investigator bias, transparency, and suitable scope. Suggestions for stakeholder engagement, synthesis of input, and reporting are discussed. Refinement decisions require judgment and balancing guiding principles. Variability in topics precludes a prescriptive approach. Conclusion: Accurate, rigorous, and useful systematic reviews require well-refined topics. These guiding principles and methodological recommendations may help investigators refine topics for reviews.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)425-432
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Clinical Epidemiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Decision making
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Methods
  • Patient-centered care
  • Research design
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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