Meta-analysis: Its strengths and limitations
The strengths and limitations of meta-analysis.Key Concepts addressed:
- 2-9 Reviews of fair comparisons should be systematic
- 2-11 All fair comparisons and outcomes should be reported
- 2-13 Relative measures of effects can be misleading
Meta-analysis is powerful but also controversial, because several conditions are critical to a sound meta-analysis, and small violations of those conditions can produce misleading results.
Nowadays, doctors face an overwhelming amount of information, even in narrow areas of interest. In response, reviews designed to summarize the large volumes of information are frequently published. When a review is done systematically, following certain criteria, and the results are pooled and analyzed quantitatively, it is called a meta-analysis. A well-designed meta-analysis can provide valuable information for researchers, policy-makers, and clinicians. However, there are many critical caveats in performing and interpreting them, and thus many ways in which meta-analyses can yield misleading information.