Objective: To identify methods to support the node-making process in network meta-analyses (NMAs) of nonpharmacological treatments.
Study design and setting: We proceeded in two stages. First, we conducted a literature review of guidelines and methodological articles about NMAs to identify methods proposed to lump interventions into nodes. Second, we conducted a systematic review of NMAs of nonpharmacological treatments to extract methods used by authors to support their node-making process. MEDLINE and Google Scholar were searched to identify articles assessing NMA guidelines or methodology intended for NMA authors. MEDLINE, CENTRAL, and EMBASE were searched to identify reports of NMAs including at least one nonpharmacological treatment. Both searches involved articles available from database inception to March 2016. From the methodological review, we identified and extracted methods proposed to lump interventions into nodes. From the systematic review, the reporting of the network was assessed as long as the method described supported the node-making process.
Results: Among the 116 articles retrieved in the literature review, 12 (10%) discussed the concept of lumping or splitting interventions in NMAs. No consensual method was identified during the methodological review, and expert consensus was the only method proposed to support the node-making process. Among 5187 references for the systematic review, we included 110 reports of NMAs published between 2007 and 2016. The nodes were described in the introduction section of 88 reports (80%), which suggested that the node content might have been a priori decided before the systematic review. Nine reports (8.1%) described a specific process or justification to build nodes for the network. Two methods were identified: (1) fit a previously published classification and (2) expert consensus.
Conclusion: Despite the importance of NMA in the delivery of evidence when several interventions are available for a single indication, recommendations on the reporting of the node-making process in NMAs are lacking, and reporting of the node-making process in NMAs seems insufficient.
Keywords: Methodological review; Mixed treatment meta-analyses; Mixed treatment meta-analysis; Multiple treatment comparison; Network; Network meta-analyses; Network meta-analysis; Node-making process; Nodes; Review; Systematic review.
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