Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Rapid, Up-to-Date Evidence Synthesis in the Time of COVID

In emergent situations with sparse and rapidly evolving bodies of research, evidence synthesis programs must be able to adapt to a shortened timeline to provide clinicians with the best available evidence for decision-making. (See our previous posts on rapid systematic review and guideline development, here, here, here, and here). But perhaps no health crisis in the modern era has made this more clear than the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Recently, Murad and colleagues published a framework detailing a four-pillar program through which they have been able to synthesize evidence related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This system has been tried and tested within the Mayo Clinic, a multi-state academic center with more than 1.2 million patients per year.


Launched within two weeks of the World Health Organization’s declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic, Mayo Clinic’s evidence synthesis program consisted of four major components:

  • What is New?: an automatically generated list of COVID-19-related studies published within the last three days and categorized into topic areas such as diagnosis or prevention
  • Repository of Studies: a running list of previously published studies since the first case report of COVID-19, including those that move from the “What is New?” list after three days’ time
  • Rapid Reviews: reviews published within three to four days in response to pressing clinical questions from those on the frontlines and utilizing the study repository. To facilitate evidence synthesis, studies are often screened and selected by a single reviewer and evidence is rarely meta-analyzed.
  • Repository of Reviews: a collection of reviews including those developed at Mayo and elsewhere, identified in twice-weekly searches and through a list of predetermined websites. To supplement knowledge, some reviews included indirect evidence borrowed from studies of other coronaviruses or respiratory infections, when appropriate.
Click to enlarge.

Within one month of the framework’s establishment, the team had conducted seven in-house rapid reviews and had indexed more than 100 newly published reviews into a database housing over 2,000 total.

The authors conclude that while an intensive system such as this may not be feasible in smaller health systems, cross-collaboration and sharing of knowledge can allow for informed and up-to-date clinical care that adapts in the face of a rapidly changing landscape of evidence.

Murad, M.H., Nayfeh, T., Suarez, M.U., Seisa, M.O., Abd-Rabu, R., Farah, M.H.E..., & Saadi, S.M. 2020. A framework for evidence synthesis programs to respond to a pandemic. Mayo Clin Proc 95(7):1426-1429.

Manuscript available at the publisher's website here.