During my days of nursing school and research classes, we did literature reviews to determine relevant research surrounding a topic of interest. While we did learn about ensuring that studies in our literature reviews were solid, with appropriate sample, design, methods, etc., we didn’t actually compare the findings from the studies with the same intensity that we do today. 

A recent webinar about evidence-based practice (EBP) really cleared up some concepts and terms for me, including the importance of using systematic reviews when examining evidence. A systematic review is an essential component for basing change in practice on current evidence. So how does a systematic review differ from a literature review?

  • Peer review is a critical part of the process. A systematic review looks at evidence reported in peer-reviewed journals and the systematic review itself is peer-reviewed.
  • The evidence is rigorously reviewed, using the same manner and standards that were used to produce the evidence.

We know that changing practice based on one research study is not enough. It’s not even enough to change nursing practice based on several studies. Available evidence must be investigated and interpreted using scientific review methods. A well-conducted systematic review summarizes existing research, defines the boundaries of what is known and what is not known, and helps resolve inconsistencies among diverse pieces of research evidence (Duffy, 2005).

Here’s a good example of a systematic review from the October issue of American Journal of Nursing. As you read Deactivation of ICDs at the End of Life: A Systematic Review of Clinical Practices and Provider and Patient Attitudes, pay particular attention to Table 1 where the sample, methods, and findings of each study are summarized. 

References

Duffy, M. (2005). Using Research to Advance Nursing Practice: Systematic Reviews: Their Role and Contribution to Evidence-based Practice. Clinical Nurse Specialist: The Journal for Advanced Nursing Practice, 15-17.

Woods, A. (2011). Implementing Evidence Into Practice. Webinar. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.