Methodological assessment of systematic reviews and meta-analyses on COVID-19: A meta-epidemiological study
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Rationale, aims, and objectives: COVID-19 has caused an ongoing public health crisis. Many systematic reviews and meta-analyses have been performed to synthesize evidence for better understanding this new disease. However, some concerns have been raised about rapid COVID-19 research. This meta-epidemiological study aims to methodologically assess the current systematic reviews and meta-analyses on COVID-19. Methods: We searched in various databases for systematic reviews with meta-analyses published between 1 January 2020 and 31 October 2020. We extracted their basic characteristics, data analyses, evidence appraisal, and assessment of publication bias and heterogeneity. Results: We identified 295 systematic reviews on COVID-19. The median time from submission to acceptance was 33 days. Among these systematic reviews, 73.9% evaluated clinical manifestations or comorbidities of COVID-19. Stata was the most used software programme (43.39%). The odds ratio was the most used effect measure (34.24%). Moreover, 28.14% of the systematic reviews did not present evidence appraisal. Among those reporting the risk of bias results, 14.64% of studies had a high risk of bias. Egger's test was the most used method for assessing publication bias (38.31%), while 38.66% of the systematic reviews did not assess publication bias. The I2 statistic was widely used for assessing heterogeneity (92.20%); many meta-analyses had high values of I2. Among the meta-analyses using the random-effects model, 75.82% did not report the methods for model implementation; among those meta-analyses reporting implementation methods, the DerSimonian-Laird method was the most used one. Conclusions: The current systematic reviews and meta-analyses on COVID-19 might suffer from low transparency, high heterogeneity, and suboptimal statistical methods. It is recommended that future systematic reviews on COVID-19 strictly follow well-developed guidelines. Sensitivity analyses may be performed to examine how the synthesized evidence might depend on different methods for appraising evidence, assessing publication bias, and implementing meta-analysis models.