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Scanning while you sleep?

Toronto, June 6, 2013

By Audrey Gouskos

Dr. Andrea Tricco and David Newton. (Photo: Katie Cooper, Medical Media)
Dr. Andrea Tricco and David Newton. (Photo: Katie Cooper)

Dr. Andrea Tricco, a scientist with the Knowledge Translation Program at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, and her team are using an online systematic review tool that allows them to screen up to 10 times the amount of literature as other teams.

The online tool was originally developed by the Knowledge Translation Program and updated by David Newton. The tool is called “synthesi.SR” and allows the team to screen an enormous amount of material in a short period of time – and access it from anywhere in the world, even from an iPad or iPhone.

“Members of our team are located in other countries, including Ireland and Saudi Arabia, who are screening while we sleep,” said Dr. Tricco, a systematic review methodologist.

Most of the knowledge synthesis team’s work involves reviewing randomized trials so that decision-makers can determine optimal treatments based on evidence.

For example, over a three-month period starting in January, the team scanned 9,513 titles and abstracts about frequent users of the health care system in duplicate, 147 full text articles, 51 studies and 35 randomized clinical trials, while also rating the methodological quality of evidence used in the interventions and producing a report for decision-makers.

The tool can be used to scan the titles and abstracts resulting from the literature search. It can then be used to scan full-text articles and facilitates the abstraction of data from the included studies. Each step is always done in duplicate to ensure that the systematic review is conducted to the highest quality. The tool can also be used to quickly detect disagreements amongst the team.

Most of Dr. Tricco’s work is funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research national Drug Safety and Effectiveness Network and looks at adverse effects of drugs that are already on the market. She has also done work for the provincial Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Toronto Central LHIN.

“At any given time we have 10 systematic reviews on the go,” she said. “We’re always looking at how we can improve systematic review methodology. Specifically, how can we do our reviews faster without jeopardizing quality? As a matter of fact, we recently received funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research to do a methods study examining just this question – how can we speed up the systematic review process without compromising the integrity of the systematic review results?”

Her team, including a research assistant, five research co-ordinators, a librarian, statistician and 13 casual employees works closely with Dr. Sharon Straus, the director of knowledge translation. This ensures that every systematic review is conducted with a target audience in mind, making the results more relevant to the end-user. The Knowledge Synthesis Group is part of the Knowledge Translation Program, which also includes groups working in implementation and evaluation, and capacity building.