Alison Booth: Celebrating PROSPERO’s first year

It feels like no time at all since we launched PROSPERO. The year has flown by, buoyed by the worldwide support and enthusiasm for the initiative. It has been a successful year with over 380 reviews being undertaken in 27 different countries registered to date. We have also been delighted by the public support of influential organisations such as the International Network of Agencies for Health Technology Assessment (INAHTA) and Guidelines International Network (G-I-N); commissioners such as National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) who have mandated registration; and medical journals and publishers, including BMJ and BMJ Open, who will be looking for protocol registration details in submitted manuscripts.

PROSPERO is an international database of prospectively registered systematic reviews in health and social care. Key features from the review protocol are recorded, ideally before the reviewers have started formal screening against inclusion criteria. The aim is to provide transparency in the review process, help reduce unplanned duplication of reviews, and enable comparison of reported review findings with what was planned in the protocol.

The dataset we collect was agreed by our advisory group following an international consultation, which also gave us the first indication of how the register might be received. It was overwhelmingly positive – with the proviso that we keep things as simple and user friendly as possible, which is what we have tried to do.

PROSPERO is web-based, free to search, and open for free registration to anyone undertaking a systematic review of the effects of interventions and strategies to prevent, diagnose, treat, and monitor health conditions, for which there is a health-related outcome. The plan is to expand the scope over time to include all systematic reviews for which there is a health related outcome in the broadest sense.

We don’t peer review submissions; simply check they are in scope, meet our inclusion criteria and the information provided can be clearly understood. This means that responsibility for content remains with the review team and our administration turn around time is usually just a couple of days.

Registrations so far include everything from PhD student reviews to large nationally commissioned reviews and reviews being undertaken across countries and between continents. They cover treatments, service delivery, prognostic, diagnostic, and prevention reviews on a diverse range of subjects. We hope shortly to reward the patience of Cochrane reviewers keen to have their protocols included in PROSPERO by launching an automatic upload function. PROSPERO will then truly become a one stop shop for systematic reviews in progress.

Over PROSPERO’s first year we have responded to user suggestions and added and clarified support information, made training materials available, and published a number of papers about the consultation exercise and development of the database.  As for the future, we’re going to be busy. While continuing to encourage registration of reviews, we will also be working to improve the PROSPERO search function and making more people aware of its content and value. An evaluation of the utility of the registration process is currently underway and the results will inform the next stage of development. This will include looking at the timing of acceptance of registration and the scope for inclusion. Feedback is welcome at any time to

Dame Sally Davies sums up the premise and aim that will underpin continued development, “…it is important that it [PROSPERO] has been designed through widespread consultation to be used internationally to promote best practice around the world.

Alison Booth, Research Fellow, Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, University of York.