This study aimed to review the literature describing and quantifying time lags in the health research translation process. Papers were included in the review if they quantified time lags in the development of health interventions. The study identified 23 papers. Few were comparable as different studies use different measures, of different things, at different time points. We concluded that the current state of knowledge of time lags is of limited use to those responsible for R&D and knowledge transfer who face difficulties in knowing what they should or can do to reduce time lags. This effectively 'blindfolds' investment decisions and risks wasting effort. The study concludes that understanding lags first requires agreeing models, definitions and measures, which can be applied in practice. A second task would be to develop a process by which to gather these data.