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Should Meta-analyses Of Interventions Include Observational Studies In Addition To Randomized Controlled Trials? A Critical Examination Of Underlying Principles.

I. Shrier, J. Boivin, R. Steele, R. Platt, Andrea Furlan, R. Kakuma, J. Brophy, M. Rossignol
Published 2007 · Medicine

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Some authors argue that systematic reviews and meta-analyses of intervention studies should include only randomized controlled trials because the randomized controlled trial is a more valid study design for causal inference compared with the observational study design. However, a review of the principal elements underlying this claim (randomization removes the chance of confounding, and the double-blind process minimizes biases caused by the placebo effect) suggests that both classes of study designs have strengths and weaknesses, and including information from observational studies may improve the inference based on only randomized controlled trials. Furthermore, a review of empirical studies suggests that meta-analyses based on observational studies generally produce estimates of effect similar to those from meta-analyses based on randomized controlled trials. The authors found that the advantages of including both observational studies and randomized studies in a meta-analysis could outweigh the disadvantages in many situations and that observational studies should not be excluded a priori.
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