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Rapid reviews

Rapid reviews are used primarily within the field of healthcare research. The rapid review is a version of the systematic review, in which the individual stages are carried out more quickly in order to accommodate decision-makers in the health sector [1]. The rapid review method is relatively new, but Tricco et al.  has the following definition: ”Rapid reviews are a form of knowledge synthesis in which components of the systematic review process are simplified or omitted to produce information in a timely manner” [2].


The differences between systematic reviews and rapid reviews is illustrated below [3-5]:



Rapid review

Systematic review

Time frames

1 to 6 months

6 to 24 months


Relevant databases

Relevant databases

Citation searching

Grey literature


May have limitations on publication dates and languages

No limitations


Two reviewers will screen the first 20 % together, working from predefined criteria of inclusion.

One reviewer will screen the rest, the other will verify.

Two independent reviewers will screen all references from predefined criteria of inclusion.


Data extraction

One reviewer will extract data, the other will verify.

Two independent reviewers will extract data.

Quality evaluation

One reviewer will make the quality assessments, the other will verify.

Two independent reviewers will do the quality assessment.

Synthesis of evidence

Only a narrative synthesis will be made. A meta-analysis will only be made if appropriate.

Both a narrative synthesis and a meta-analysis will be made.

Quality of evidence


One reviewer will evaluate the quality of the evidence (GRADE), the other will verify the evaluations.

Two independently reviewers will evaluate the quality of the evidence.


Ideally, these “short cut” reviews would be unacceptable in an academic context, but a rapid review may be considered according to the availability of resources and the topic of the research.


Overview – the different steps of a rapid review

Rapid reviews are often performed to support decision-makers within the healthcare sector. They should be consulted when formulating the research question, in order to secure that the review addresses the relevant problem [4, 5]. The research question is an important part of a review and the decision-makers will often formulate very broad questions. Their expectations should be addressed and adjusted through dialogue, so that a more tightly focused research question is formulated [3, 5]. Conceptualization models can be used to formulate focused research questions. These models will help with structuring and defining concepts of the question (See Systematic reviews: research question and protocol. Additionally, the scope can be limited further by focusing on one intervention, control group and outcome.[4].

It is recommended to write a protocol for any review, stating the rationale, hypothesis, and methods for the review [4, 5]. Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) have developed a reporting guide for systematic review protocols [6].

The protocol can be registered in PROSPERO or Open Science Framework (OSF) Registries.

As initially described, rapid reviews are often conducted in order to support decisions-makers. The decision-makers and the project team are advised to describe the in- and exclusion criteria in cooperation to address the relevant problem and to ensure focus [4, 5].

Bramer et al. have made a step-by-step guide for planning a systematic search [7]. The guide has fifteen steps and describes the process from formulating the research question to evaluating the result of the searches.

A systematic literature search for a rapid review can be limited to three relevant databases. Higgins et al. recommend Medline, Embase, and Cochrane[8]. If your time limit permits it, you can supplement them with another one or two relevant databases. The search strategy could include citation searching and registries for clinical trials. The search can be limited to the English language [4].

Garrity et al. introduced a method for accelerating the screening process in rapid reviews through a delphi study [4]. At title/abstract level of screening, both reviewers will screen at a minimum 20 % of the identified records and make consensus. One reviewer will screen the remaining records, and the other reviewer will review the excluded studies. The same method applies to full-text screening. This method was found acceptable in the delphi study, but Tricco et al. recommend that two individual reviewers should screen and select studies in order to minimize selection bias [5].

Software for managing references can be used for several purposes during a rapid review (and other kinds of reviews). Here at SDU, students and employees have access to Endnote and Covidence.


Endnote supports the duplicate process, storage, and use of references in manuscripts. [9]. The Library Endnote guide encompasses download, installation, full text searching, duplicate searching, citation in the text and more.


Covidence is intended for supporting Cochrane reviews of intervention studies, but it is used for all types of reviews. The web-based programme can ease the selection, data extraction and quality assessment in reviews [10]. It can also be used for checking duplicate entries. You can read more about how to use Covidence and find courses here.


A 2021 study compared six different de-duplicating methods [11]. Endnote achieved 0.57 and 0.89 in sensitivity and specificity respectively. Covidence achieved 0.90 and 1.00 in sensitivity and specificity respectively.

The quality assessment and data extraction can be performed by one reviewer, but it has been recommended that another reviewer should verify the data extraction and quality evaluation [4, 5]. In quality assessment, a validated tool is preferable and the assessment can be accelerated by only rating the quality of the outcome measures that are most central to decision making [4].

Tricco et al. recommend including a general section on results, in which the studies that have been included and their results are described, as well as a meta-analysis, if this is relevant to the problem [5]. The Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) can be used to evaluate the level of evidence for each outcome measure [12]. One reviewer can perform the grading of evidence and another can verify the evaluations [4].


The rapid review method may introduce bias and uncertainty to results compared with the systematic review method [13].

  1. Moher, D., L. Stewart, and P. Shekelle, All in the Family: systematic reviews, rapid reviews, scoping reviews, realist reviews, and more. Syst Rev, 2015. 4: p. 183.
  2.  Tricco, A.C., et al., A scoping review of rapid review methods. BMC Med, 2015. 13: p. 224.
  3.  Khangura, S., et al., Evidence summaries: the evolution of a rapid review approach. Systematic reviews, 2012. 1(1): p. 1-9.
  4.  Garritty, C., et al., Cochrane Rapid Reviews Methods Group offers evidence-informed guidance to conduct rapid reviews. J Clin Epidemiol, 2020. 130: p. 13-22.
  5.  World Health Organization, Rapid Reviews to Strengthen Health Policy and Systems: A practical Guide, A.C. Tricco, E.V. Langlois, and S.E. Straus, Editors. 2017, WHO, link
  6.  Moher, D., et al., Preferred reporting items for systematic review and meta-analysis protocols (PRISMA-P) 2015 statement. Systematic reviews, 2015. 4(1): p. 1-9.
  7.  Bramer, W.M., et al., A systematic approach to searching: an efficient and complete method to develop literature searches. J Med Libr Assoc, 2018. 106(4): p. 531-541.
  8.  Higgins, J.P., et al., Cochrane handbook for systematic reviews of interventions. 2019: John Wiley & Sons.
  9.  The EndNote Team, EndNote. 2013, Clarivate: Philadelphia, PA.
  10.  Veritas Health Innovation, Covidence systematic review software. Melbourne, Australia.
  11.  McKeown, S. and Z.M. Mir, Considerations for conducting systematic reviews: evaluating the performance of different methods for de-duplicating references. Systematic Reviews, 2021. 10(1): p. 38.
  12.  Guyatt, G.H., et al., GRADE: an emerging consensus on rating quality of evidence and strength of recommendations. Bmj, 2008. 336(7650): p. 924-926.
  13.  Featherstone, R.M., et al., Advancing knowledge of rapid reviews: an analysis of results, conclusions and recommendations from published review articles examining rapid reviews. Syst Rev, 2015. 4: p. 50.

Last Updated 28.06.2021