Editors’ Picks 2015: Part Five

How well reported are interventions in systematic reviews?


In December we surveyed our staff editors to tell us about their favourite articles from 2015. Part 5 focuses on another important editorial issue: the quality of reporting in systematic reviews.

Clinicians and healthcare professionals often rely on systematic reviews and meta-analyses for information on how effective interventions are, as they do not have the time to read through the literature on each individual trial that is published. But how useful are systematic reviews for clinicians and are the interventions reported in sufficient detail for clinicians to implement them in clinical practice? Interventions should also be reported in sufficient detail so that other researchers could independently replicate the interventions in future studies.

In our fifth editors’ pick, Tammy Hoffman and colleagues selected a random sample of systematic reviews of non-pharmacological interventions for stroke, and examined the completeness of reporting of the interventions in the reviews. Using an established reporting instrument called the Template for Intervention Description and Replication (TIDieR) checklist, the authors found that a number of checklist items were incompletely reported in the reviews, including: (1) modifications to the intervention; (2) a description of intervention adherence/ fidelity; (3) a description of the materials used in the intervention; (4) a description of the procedures used in the intervention and; (5) if there was a plan for the intervention to be personalised or adapted during the study. The incomplete descriptions of the intervention materials and procedures were highlighted as crucial missing elements that have previously been reported as most frequently missing in publications of individual randomized trials.

The authors concluded that better reporting of interventions were needed in systematic reviews if they were going to be effectively used and interpreted by readers. Recommendations are provided for authors of systematic reviews to use the TIDieR checklist as a guide for reporting interventions, and to provide an ‘intervention options table’ that summarises the pros and cons of all usable and feasible interventions reported in the review.