Objectives: The number of systematic reviews that aim to compare multiple interventions using network meta-analysis is increasing. In this study, we highlight aspects of a standard systematic review protocol that may need modification when multiple interventions are to be compared.
Study design and setting: We take the protocol format suggested by Cochrane for a standard systematic review as our reference and compare the considerations for a pairwise review with those required for a valid comparison of multiple interventions. We suggest new sections for protocols of systematic reviews including network meta-analyses with a focus on how to evaluate their assumptions. We provide example text from published protocols to exemplify the considerations.
Conclusion: Standard systematic review protocols for pairwise meta-analyses need extensions to accommodate the increased complexity of network meta-analysis. Our suggested modifications are widely applicable to both Cochrane and non-Cochrane systematic reviews involving network meta-analyses.
Keywords: Comparative effectiveness review; Eligibility criteria; Indirect comparison; Mixed treatment comparison; Network meta-analysis; Transitivity.
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