Authors: Barnaby C Reeves, Jonathan J Deeks, Julian PT Higgins and George A Wells on behalf of the Cochrane Non-Randomised Studies Methods Group.
For some Cochrane reviews, the question of interest cannot be answered by randomized trials, and review authors may be justified in including non-randomized studies;
Potential biases are likely to be greater for non-randomized studies compared with randomized trials, so results should always be interpreted with caution when they are included in reviews and meta-analyses. Particular concerns arise with respect to differences between people in different intervention groups (selection bias) and studies that do not explicitly report having had a protocol (reporting bias);
We recommend that eligibility criteria, data collection and critical assessment of included studies place an emphasis on specific features of study design (e.g. which parts of the study were prospectively designed) rather than ‘labels’ for study designs (such as case-control versus cohort);
Risk of bias in non-randomized studies can be assessed in a similar manner to that used for randomized trials, although more attention must be paid to the possibility of selection bias;
Meta-analyses of non-randomized studies must consider how potential confounders are addressed, and consider the likelihood of increased heterogeneity resulting from other biases that vary across studies.
13.2 Developing criteria for including non-randomized studies
13.3 Searching for non-randomized studies
13.4 Selecting studies and collecting data
13.5 Assessing risk of bias in non-randomized studies
13.6 Synthesis of data from non-randomized studies
13.7 Interpretation and discussion
13.8 Chapter information
Box 13.8.a: The Cochrane Non-Randomised Studies Methods Group