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OBJECTIVE: To estimate the proportion of systematic reviews that meet the optimal information size (OIS) and assess the impact heterogeneity and effect size have on the OIS estimate by type of outcome (eg, mortality, semiobjective or subjective). METHODS: We carried out searches of Medline and Cochrane to retrieve meta-analyses published in systematic reviews from 2010 to 2012. We estimated the OIS usingTrial Sequential Analysissoftware (TSA V.0.9) and based on several heterogeneity and effect size scenarios, stratifying by type of outcome (mortality/semiobjective/subjective) and by Cochrane/non-Cochrane reviews. RESULTS: We included 137 meta-analyses out of 218 (63%) potential systematic reviews (one meta-analysis from each systematic review). Of these reviews, 83 (61%) were Cochrane and 54 (39%) non-Cochrane. The Cochrane reviews included a mean of 6.5 (SD 6.1) studies and the non-Cochrane included a mean of 13.2 (SD 10.2) studies. The mean number of patients was 2619.1 (SD 6245.8 or median 586.0) for the Cochrane and 19 888.5 (SD 32 925.7 or median 6566.5) patients for the non-Cochrane reviews. The percentage of systematic reviews that achieved the OIS for all-cause mortality outcome were 0% Cochrane and 25% for non-Cochrane reviews; for semiobjective outcome 17% for Cochrane and 46% for non-Cochrane reviews and for subjective outcome 45% for Cochrane and 72% for non-Cochrane reviews. CONCLUSIONS: The number of systematic reviews that meet an optimal information size is low and varies depending on the type of outcome and the type of publication. Less than half of primary outcomes synthesised in systematic reviews achieve the OIS, and therefore the conclusions are subject to substantial uncertainty.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Open

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effect size, heterogeneity, meta-analysis, optimal information size, systematic review, trial sequential analysis