Systematic reviews in health care aim to answer a specific, highly structured, clinical question by extensive searching, careful sifting and appraisal of the studies, a considered synthesis and well tempered conclusions. They can take very many months – 18 or more – to complete.
Where we undertake and use systematic reviews to provide the very best estimates of effect, we’ll also be waiting a long time to get there. What we might be – practically – better doing is a ‘good enough’ review; still focussed, still symptomatic and still synthetic, but quicker.
This is the realm of the rapid review, a not-quite defined type of systematic review that’s quicker, perhaps a little more focussed, sets clearer boundaries and is well prepared to make every piece fall into place one after another. It turns around an answer fast enough to bring answers about more quickly but still good enough to make a difference.
Of course, you might recognise this type of description when you think about Archimedes reports…But Archimedes reports are a bit briefer in searching, and rarely undertake a formal synthesis, so not quite in this category.