Evaluating Health Services: A Reporter Covers the Science of Research Synthesis


Systematic reviews, based on the science of research synthesis, are an increasingly influential source of useful information about the effectiveness of interventions in health care and other areas of public concern. Scientists in many countries are using the methods of research synthesis to prepare rigorous systematic reviews of evidence from published and unpublished studies. These reviews are informing the judgments of many clinicians and policymakers about which interventions are likely to be most appropriate for particular patients and populations.

The Milbank Memorial Fund asked Ray Moynihan, a distinguished journalist, to report on these recent developments in the use of research to inform practice and policy. Because many people concerned about health affairs have not followed recent developments in the methods and uses of research synthesis, the Fund asked Moynihan to describe who is doing systematic reviews, how the most reliable reviews are being prepared, and how they are being used. The Fund also asked him to report on how scientists and policymakers assess the strengths, weaknesses, and promise of the methodology for preparing reviews.

Moynihan has been covering the story of research synthesis and the move toward evidence-based medicine for many years, initially in Australia and then internationally. For this report, he interviewed pioneers in the science of research synthesis, clinicians and policymakers who use systematic reviews, and journalists and other persons who communicate about the findings of scientists to various audiences.

The Milbank Memorial Fund is an endowed operating foundation that engages in nonpartisan analysis, study, research, and communication on significant issues in health policy. Since 1905 the Fund has worked to improve and maintain health by encouraging persons who make and implement health policy to use the best available evidence. The Fund convenes meetings of leaders in the public and private sectors and publishes reports, articles, and books.

The Fund sought comments on this report in draft from many people in science, clinical practice, policy, and communications. These reviewers are listed in the Acknowledgments.

Daniel M. Fox

Samuel L. Milbank