Intended for healthcare professionals


The automation of systematic reviews

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 10 January 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f139
  1. Guy Tsafnat, senior research fellow1,
  2. Adam Dunn, research fellow1,
  3. Paul Glasziou, professor2,
  4. Enrico Coiera, professor1
  1. 1Centre for Health Informatics, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
  2. 2Centre for Research on Evidence Based Practice, Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia
  1. guyt{at}

Would lead to best currently available evidence at the push of a button

The Cochrane handbook stipulates that systematic reviews should be examined every two years and updated if needed,1 but time and resource constraints mean that this occurs for only a third of reviews.2 Indeed, it may take as much time to update a review as it did to produce the original review. If this effort were redirected at developing methods to automate reviews, then updating might one day become almost effortless, immediate, and universal.

In his novel Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut Jr described machines that record the hand motions of artisans and replay them to reproduce a perfect copy of the artefact, more quickly and more economically. Such automation is needed in the update and even creation of systematic reviews, because the capability of the human machinery for review increasingly lags behind our capacity to produce primary evidence.3 The current reality is that many reviews are missing or outdated,4 and it is hard to imagine a solution that does not involve some automation.5

Technology has advanced such that software can be used …

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