What are ‘rapid reviews’ and why do we need them?
Posted on 20th July 2022 by Zain Douba
Rapid reviews are a form of knowledge synthesis that follow the systematic review process, but components of the process are simplified or omitted to produce information in a timely manner (Khangura, 2012).
Palmatier et al. describe review papers as:
Critical evaluations of material that has already been published regardless of the type of study design.
Progressively, reviews scan the literature to answer a research question briefly.
Types of review articles
There are more than 14 types of ‘review articles’; here are some of the main types:
- Critical review
- Literature (Narrative) review
- Mapping review
- Mixed studies review
- Rapid review
- Scoping review
- Systematic review
- Systematized review
- Umbrella review
So, what is a rapid review?
A rapid review is a form of knowledge synthesis that accelerates the process of conducting a traditional systematic review through streamlining or omitting specific methods to produce evidence for stakeholders in a resource-efficient manner.
The timeframe of the review depends on resource availability, the quantity and quality of the literature, and the expertise or experience of reviewers.
As a guide, the stages and timeframe of the rapid review are:
- Timeframe: ≤ 5 weeks
- Question: Narrow question (may use the PICO framework – YouTube video)
- Searches: Sources are limited due to time constraints of searching. Must still be transparent and reproducible
- Selection: Based on inclusion/exclusion criteria
- Appraisal: Critical and rigorous but time-limited
- Synthesis: Descriptive summary or categorization of data, may still be quantitative
The main role of the rapid review
Policy-makers require valid and reliable evidence to support time-sensitive decisions, and will need to assess the quality and efficiency of that evidence.
Systematic reviews and other types of evidence syntheses are increasingly being used to inform, and lead, health policy decision-making. However, the time and cost to produce a systematic review are often barriers to its use in decision-making.
Rapid reviews are a timely and affordable approach that can provide actionable and relevant evidence to strengthen health policy and systems.
What are the key advantages of rapid reviews?
The rapid review can benefit the scientific community in many ways:
- Provide an incorporated, synthesized overview of the currently available evidence
- Evaluate existing methodological approaches and unique insights
- Describe research understandings, existing gaps, and future research directions
In other words, the methodology used in a rapid review aims to limit some secondary steps compared to the systematic review, in order to produce focused research. This includes carefully focusing on the question, using broader or less sophisticated search strategies, conducting a review of reviews, restricting the amount of grey literature, extracting only key variables, and performing only ‘simple’ quality appraisal. Thus, not every review paper can offer all of these benefits, but this list represents their key contributions.
Clinicians, stakeholders, consumers, and policy-makers usually tend to digest and produce health-related decisions in a timely and resource-efficient manner. Concurrently, researchers tend to conduct ‘summarized evidence’ to respond to the need for the most recent and valid evidence.
Many readers tend to access the most summarized articles that come under the categories of improving patient care, health systems, decision-making, and international policies.
And now, can you tell me why and how you are planning to conduct a rapid review?
References and resources
A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies
Evidence summaries: the evolution of a rapid review approach
Review articles: purpose, process, and structure
Systematic Reviews & Other Review Types
Cochrane Rapid Reviews: Interim Guidance from the Cochrane Rapid Reviews Methods Group