Background: Systematic reviews constitute the top of the "level-of-evidence pyramid." Despite their strengths, they have been found to be of varying quality, thus raising concerns about their validity and role in influencing clinical practice. In the present study, a quality analysis of systematic reviews with a focus on hand surgery was performed.
Methods: A PubMed search was performed to identify all systematic reviews published up to and including December of 2011 in eight surgical journals. Two authors independently reviewed the literature and extracted data from included reviews. Discrepancies were resolved by consensus. Quality assessment was performed using AMSTAR.
Results: The initial search retrieved 687 articles. After screening titles and abstracts, 635 articles were excluded. Full-text review of the remaining 52 articles resulted in further exclusion of 10 articles, leaving 42 systematic reviews for final analysis. A significant increase in the number of published systematic reviews over time was noted (p = 0.04), with the majority of systematic reviews being published in The Journal of Hand Surgery (n = 19) and Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (n = 12). Although a significant improvement in the quality of systematic reviews was noted over time (p = 0.01), a median AMSTAR score of 7 indicated the bulk of reviews to be of fair to good quality.
Conclusions: The trend to publish more systematic reviews in hand surgery is paralleled by an increase in the quality of systematic reviews. Nonetheless, increased efforts are indicated to further improve the quality of systematic reviews in hand surgery.