The Impact of Systematic Review Automation Tools on Methodological Quality and Time Taken to Complete Systematic Review Tasks: Case Study

Justin Clark, Catherine McFarlane, Gina Cleo, Christiane Ishikawa Ramos, Skye Marshall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
80 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: Systematic reviews (SRs) are considered the highest level of evidence to answer research questions; however, they are time and resource intensive.

OBJECTIVE: When comparing SR tasks done manually, using standard methods, versus those same SR tasks done using automated tools, (1) what is the difference in time to complete the SR task and (2) what is the impact on the error rate of the SR task?

METHODS: A case study compared specific tasks done during the conduct of an SR on prebiotic, probiotic, and synbiotic supplementation in chronic kidney disease. Two participants (manual team) conducted the SR using current methods, comprising a total of 16 tasks. Another two participants (automation team) conducted the tasks where a systematic review automation (SRA) tool was available, comprising of a total of six tasks. The time taken and error rate of the six tasks that were completed by both teams were compared.

RESULTS: The approximate time for the manual team to produce a draft of the background, methods, and results sections of the SR was 126 hours. For the six tasks in which times were compared, the manual team spent 2493 minutes (42 hours) on the tasks, compared to 708 minutes (12 hours) spent by the automation team. The manual team had a higher error rate in two of the six tasks-regarding Task 5: Run the systematic search, the manual team made eight errors versus three errors made by the automation team; regarding Task 12: Assess the risk of bias, 25 assessments differed from a reference standard for the manual team compared to 20 differences for the automation team. The manual team had a lower error rate in one of the six tasks-regarding Task 6: Deduplicate search results, the manual team removed one unique study and missed zero duplicates versus the automation team who removed two unique studies and missed seven duplicates. Error rates were similar for the two remaining compared tasks-regarding Task 7: Screen the titles and abstracts and Task 9: Screen the full text, zero relevant studies were excluded by both teams. One task could not be compared between groups-Task 8: Find the full text.

CONCLUSIONS: For the majority of SR tasks where an SRA tool was used, the time required to complete that task was reduced for novice researchers while methodological quality was maintained.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere24418
JournalJMIR Medical Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


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