Systematic review and meta-analysis: techniques and a guide for the academic surgeon
With the rapidly growing literature across the surgical disciplines, there is a corresponding need to critically appraise and summarize the currently available evidence to date so they can be applied appropriately to patient care. The interpretation of systematic reviews is particularly challenging in cases where few robust clinical trials have been performed to address a particular question. However, risk of bias can be minimized and potentially useful conclusions can be drawn if strict review methodology is adhered to, including an exhaustive literature search, quality appraisal of primary studies, appropriate statistical methodology, assessment of confidence in estimates and risk of bias. Therefore, the following article aims to: (I) summarize to the important features of a thorough and rigorous systematic review or meta-analysis for the surgical literature; (II) highlight several underused statistical approaches which may yield further interesting insights compared to conventional pair-wise data synthesis techniques; and (III) propose a guide for thorough analysis and presentation of results.