Background: Healthcare decision makers are increasingly demanding qualitative evidence syntheses of patients’ perspectives and experiences. A new form of evidence synthesis is emerging in response: the rapid qualitative review (RQR). All rapid reviews require either increased resources or compromises in rigor to meet contained timelines, but it is unclear whether the same trade-offs apply for RQRs, as for rapid reviews of effects. Greater use of RQRs, particularly alongside Cochrane Reviews of effects, will require guidance that optimises trade-offs between rigor and timeliness.
Objectives: Identify existing methodological guidance and examples of rapid qualitative evidence syntheses and describe methods used.
Methods: We conducted a systematic scoping review to identify existing guidance and published examples of RQRs. We searched electronic databases, grey literature and solicited examples from experts and agencies supporting evidence-informed decision making through evidence synthesis. We extracted data and used a narrative approach to describe findings.
Results: We included 14 examples of RQRs, and no published guidance documents.Three of the 14 examples were published in peer-reviewed journals, and 11 were published in the grey literature. Several agencies produce RQRs that are characterised by focused questions to address commissioner requirements. Methods to enhance rapidity include: use of search limits (e.g. years covered (n = 11); number of databases (n = 6); limited searching of grey literature (n = 3); and a single reviewer for screening (n = 8), study selection (n = 9), data extraction (n = 5) and quality appraisal (n=7). Methods of synthesis are poorly described, with thematic analysis most commonly used (n = 11). Authors of included RQRs favoured aggregative approaches to synthesis, focusing on descriptive findings rather than interpretative analysis.
Conclusion: Our review identifies a need to develop methods for the synthesis of qualitative research to optimise the balance between rapidity and rigor. In the meantime, producers and users of RQRs should acknowledge potential limitations of rapid methods.
Consumer involvement: The purpose of this review was to examine methods being used in rapid synthesis of patient's views, which are increasingly being demanded to inform decision making and methods guidance is needed to ensure quality.