Introduction: Rapid reviews are being produced with greater frequency by health technology assessment (HTA) agencies in response to increased pressure from end-user clinicians and policy-makers for rapid, evidence-based advice on health-care technologies. This comparative study examines the differences in methodologies and essential conclusions between rapid and full reviews on the same topic, with the aim of determining the validity of rapid reviews in the clinical context and making recommendations for their future application.
Methods: Rapid reviews were located by Internet searching of international HTA agency websites, with any ambiguities resolved by further communication with the agencies. Comparator full systematic reviews were identified using the University of York Centre for Reviews and Dissemination HTA database. Data on a number of review components were extracted using standardized data extraction tables, then analysed and reported narratively.
Results: Axiomatic differences between all the rapid and full reviews were identified; however, the essential conclusions of the rapid and full reviews did not differ extensively across the topics. For each of the four topics examined, it was clear that the scope of the rapid reviews was substantially narrower than that of full reviews. The methodology underpinning the rapid reviews was often inadequately described.
Conclusions: Rapid reviews do not adhere to any single validated methodology. They frequently provide adequate advice on which to base clinical and policy decisions; however, their scope is limited, which may compromise their appropriateness for evaluating technologies in certain circumstances.