Objectives: To develop an algorithm that aims to provide guidance and awareness for choosing multiple study designs in systematic reviews of healthcare interventions.
Design: Method study: (1) To summarise the literature base on the topic. (2) To apply the integration of various study types in systematic reviews. (3) To devise decision points and outline a pragmatic decision tree. (4) To check the plausibility of the algorithm by backtracking its pathways in four systematic reviews.
Results: (1) The results of our systematic review of the published literature have already been published. (2) We recaptured the experience from our four previously conducted systematic reviews that required the integration of various study types. (3) We chose length of follow-up (long, short), frequency of events (rare, frequent) and types of outcome as decision points (death, disease, discomfort, disability, dissatisfaction) and aligned the study design labels according to the Cochrane Handbook. We also considered practical or ethical concerns, and the problem of unavailable high-quality evidence. While applying the algorithm, disease-specific circumstances and aims of interventions should be considered. (4) We confirmed the plausibility of the pathways of the algorithm.
Conclusions: We propose that the algorithm can assist to bring seminal features of a systematic review with multiple study designs to the attention of anyone who is planning to conduct a systematic review. It aims to increase awareness and we think that it may reduce the time burden on review authors and may contribute to the production of a higher quality review.