Meta-analysis in clinical research

Ann Intern Med. 1987 Aug;107(2):224-33. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-107-2-224.


Meta-analysis is the process of combining study results that can be used to draw conclusions about therapeutic effectiveness or to plan new studies. We review important design and statistical issues of this process. The design issues include protocol development, objectives, literature search, publication bias, measures of study outcomes, and quality of the data. The statistical issues include consistency (homogeneity) of study outcomes, and techniques for pooling results from several studies. Guidelines are provided to assess the quality of meta-analyses based on our discussion of the design and statistical issues. Limitations and areas for further development of this approach are discussed; researchers should come to a general agreement on how to conduct meta-analysis. As an explicit strategy for summarizing results, meta-analysis may help clinicians and researchers better understand the findings of clinical studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection / methods
  • Decision Making
  • Information Systems
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Research Design
  • Research*
  • Statistics as Topic*