Objective: To assess how common it is to have multiple overlapping meta-analyses of randomized trials published on the same topic.
Design: Survey of published meta-analyses.
Data sources: PubMed.
Study selection and methods: Meta-analyses published in 2010 were identified, and 5% of them were randomly selected. We further selected those that included randomized trials and examined effectiveness of any medical intervention. For eligible meta-analyses, we searched for other meta-analyses on the same topic (covering the same comparisons, indications/settings, and outcomes or overlapping subsets of them) published until February 2013.
Results: Of 73 eligible meta-analyses published in 2010, 49 (67%) had at least one other overlapping meta-analysis (median two meta-analyses per topic, interquartile range 1-4, maximum 13). In 17 topics at least one author was involved in at least two of the overlapping meta-analyses. No characteristics of the index meta-analyses were associated with the potential for overlapping meta-analyses. Among pairs of overlapping meta-analyses in 20 randomly selected topics, 13 of the more recent meta-analyses did not include any additional outcomes. In three of the four topics with eight or more published meta-analyses, many meta-analyses examined only a subset of the eligible interventions or indications/settings covered by the index meta-analysis. Conversely, for statins in the prevention of atrial fibrillation after cardiac surgery, 11 meta-analyses were published with similar eligibility criteria for interventions and setting: there was still variability on which studies were included, but the results were always similar or even identical across meta-analyses.
Conclusions: While some independent replication of meta-analyses by different teams is possibly useful, the overall picture suggests that there is a waste of efforts with many topics covered by multiple overlapping meta-analyses.