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BACKGROUND: Systematic reviews of RCTs have been developed to address end-users' needs and are regarded as the highest level of evidence. Flaws in the design, conduct and analyses of a systematic review can lead to erroneous conclusions and increase the research waste. OBJECTIVE: We undertook a cross-sectional survey to identify the critical areas of weakness in systematic reviews for surgical interventions by AMSTAR 2. METHODS: We searched PubMed, EMbase and Cochrane Library to summarize systematic reviews of surgical RCTs published in 2017. The information regarding general characteristics and methodological characteristics were gathered. We conducted descriptive analyses of study characteristics of included systematic reviews and explored the difference among varied methodological quality. RESULTS: Totally 141 systematic reviews were identified. We found only four reviews (2.8%) were high quality, 3 (2.1%) were moderate quality, 8 (5.7%) were low quality, and the remaining 126 (89.4%) were of critical low quality. The critical weaknesses were lack of pre-registration or published protocols (29.1%), comprehensive literature search (17.7%), lists of excluded studies and reasons for exclusion (19.1%), description of detailed interventions (8.5%), extraction of funding source from included trials (10.6%), and consideration of the risk of bias of included trials when synthesized (16.3%) and interpret (20.6%) the results. Higher methodological quality was only positively associated with Cochrane systematic review. CONCLUSION: Although two-thirds of included systematic reviews in the field of surgery were published in journals ranking Q1, the methodological quality is suboptimal and needs to be substantially improved. More efforts of multi-disciplinary teams' collaboration, continual education and training, integrally connection between primary studies and systematic review and contributing surgical research to practice should be imperative.

Original publication




Journal article


Asian J Surg

Publication Date



Methodological quality, Surgical randomised controlled trials, Systematic review