Minimizing bias

Systematic reviews of interventions require a thorough, objective and reproducible search of a range of sources to identify as many relevant studies as possible (within resource limits). This is a major factor in distinguishing systematic reviews from traditional narrative reviews and helps to minimize bias and therefore assist in achieving reliable estimates of effects.


A search of MEDLINE alone is not considered adequate. A systematic review showed that only 30% - 80% of all known published randomized trials were identifiable using MEDLINE (depending on the area or specific question) (Dickersin 1994). Even if relevant records are in MEDLINE, it can be difficult to retrieve them (Golder 2006, Whiting 2008). Going beyond MEDLINE is important not only for ensuring that as many relevant studies as possible are identified but also to minimize selection bias for those that are found. Relying exclusively on a MEDLINE search may retrieve a set of reports unrepresentative of all reports that would have been identified through a comprehensive search of several sources.


Time and budget restraints require the review author to balance the thoroughness of the search with efficiency in use of time and funds and the best way of achieving this balance is to be aware of, and try to minimize, the biases such as publication bias and language bias that can result from restricting searches in different ways (see Chapter 10, Section 10.2).