International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care


Rapid reviews versus full systematic reviews: An inventory of current methods and practice in health technology assessment

Amber Watta1, Alun Camerona1, Lana Sturma1, Timothy Lathleana1, Wendy Babidgea1, Stephen Blameya2, Karen Faceya3, David Haileya4, Inger Norderhauga5 and Guy Madderna6

a1 Royal Australasian College of Surgeons

a2 Department of Health & Ageing

a3 University of Glasgow

a4 Institute of Health Economics

a5 Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services

a6 University of Adelaide and Royal Australasian College of Surgeons


Objectives: This review assessed current practice in the preparation of rapid reviews by health technology assessment (HTA) organizations, both internationally and in the Australian context, and evaluated the available peer-reviewed literature pertaining to the methodology used in the preparation of these reviews.

Methods: A survey tool was developed and distributed to a total of fifty International Network of Agencies for Health Technology Assessment (INAHTA) members and other selected HTA organizations. Data on a broad range of themes related to the conduct of rapid reviews were collated, discussed narratively, and subjected to simple statistical analysis where appropriate. Systematic searches of the Cochrane Library, EMBASE, MEDLINE, and the Australian Medical Index were undertaken in March 2007 to identify literature pertaining to rapid review methodology. Comparative studies, guidelines, program evaluations, methods studies, commentaries, and surveys were considered for inclusion.

Results: Twenty-three surveys were returned (46 percent), with eighteen agencies reporting on thirty-six rapid review products. Axiomatic trends were identified, but there was little cohesion between organizations regarding the contents, methods, and definition of a rapid review. The twelve studies identified by the systematic literature search did not specifically address the methodology underpinning rapid review; rather, many highlighted the complexity of the area. Authors suggested restricted research questions and truncated search strategies as methods to limit the time taken to complete a review.

Conclusions: Rather than developing a formalized methodology by which to conduct rapid reviews, agencies should work toward increasing the transparency of the methods used for each review. It is perhaps the appropriate use, not the appropriate methodology, of a rapid review that requires future consideration.


The authors acknowledge Dr. Ann Scott for her assistance in the preparation of this review. We are also indebted to all agencies and individuals who responded to the survey and provided valuable ideas and information to guide the preparation of this report. The Australian Safety and Efficacy Register of New Interventional Procedures – Surgical (ASERNIP-S) project is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing and the South Australian Department of Health.