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Rapid Reviews

What is a rapid review?

A rapid review is conducted as an alternative to a systematic review when a review needs to be completed quickly.

Timeframes for conducting rapid reviews are considerably less than systematic reviews.

Rapid reviews follow the same methods and protocols as a systematic review, although components can be simplified and can be omitted if required. Which components are simplified or omitted are often determined by the nature of the topic or the types of information wanted by the organisation for which the review is being conducted, so there is no one correct way to conduct these types of reviews.

The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions states that systematic reviews have the following characteristics, and these also apply to rapid reviews:

  • a clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies;
  • an explicit, reproducible methodology;
  • a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that meet the eligibility criteria; 
  • an assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of risk of bias; and
  • a systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies.

Rapid reviews can be used for:

  • new and emerging topics
  • updating previously completed reviews
  • policy development, implementation or assessment.

Rapid reviews are often completed internally for organisations and are often not published.

The following scoping review paper examines different methods used to conduct rapid reviews and provides details of a variety of ways that stages of the review may be adapted or omitted for rapid reviews.

Types of rapid reviews

Rapid reviews may also be known as:

  • rapid systematic reviews
  • expedited reviews
  • rapid evidence synthesis
  • restricted systematic reviews
  • rapid evidence reviews
  • rapid evidence summaries
  • rapid evidence assessment 
  • evidence summaries
  • evidence reviews
  • restricted reviews

Differences between rapid reviews and systematic reviews

Rapid reviews can differ from systematic and other more rigorous reviews in a number of ways:

  • Inclusion/exclusion criteria may be used to limit the results.
  • Search strategies are often restricted by date, geography, language or topic.
  • Fewer sources are searched, such as using fewer databases, limited or no grey literature searching, or not including hand searching.
  • Fewer reviewers may be used for the screening or data analysis stages.
    • This may include only using one reviewer in each stage.
    • Another method is to use a second reviewer to check a small percentage of results to provide cross checking and consensus.

Steps to a rapid review

  1. Plan the review 

  2. Search for the literature.

  3. Analyse the results.

  4. Synthesise findings from included sources.

  5. Write the review.

  6. Publish the review.

The Guidelines & Tools section includes guidelines and handbooks as well as software and other tools to manage the process.

Advantages & disadvantages of conducting rapid reviews

Advantages Limitations
Shorter time frame allows for quicker outcomes. Search is not as comprehensive, uses fewer databases or limits types of studies.
Only one reviewer required. Single reviewer offers more opportunity for bias or errors in selection process.
  Limitations and potential biases when omitting components of the review process.

Interpretation of the findings can only be limited or cautious due to limitations in review process.

  Can impact policy and practice but systematic reviews are still needed.

(Source: Cochrane: Rapid Reviews-An Introduction (2014))

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