What kind of question are you asking?

As we discussed on the last page, the kind of questions you plan to answer with a systematic review will vary depending on your situation. To get you started, here’s a quick overview of some of the types questions you might want to ask:

  • Effectiveness (or efficacy/ harms) of Intervention: A question about the treatment of an illness, condition or disability.
    • If you’re conducting a systematic review to compare your father’s kidney failure treatment options, you are asking an intervention question.
      Example: In elderly men with kidney failure, what is the comparative efficacy of hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis for controlling local site infections?
  • Etiology/risk: A question about the causes or origins of a disease. This kind of question involves looking at the factors that either lead to a disease/disorder or predispose someone to develop that health issue.
    • If you want to understand why people like your father develop kidney failure, you are asking a question about etiology.
      Example: Are 60- to 70-year-old men who have high blood pressure compared with those without high blood pressure at increased risk for kidney failure during the first year of being diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Diagnosis: A question about the process for determining that someone has a particular disease or injury. These questions often evaluate the effectiveness of a diagnostic test. They can look at the accuracy of a test (sensitivity and specificity) as well as how that test might be used in an intervention strategy. This type of question can also include the act of finding the cause of a series of symptoms.
    • If you’re a doctor, you may want to know if the amount of protein in a urine sample can help you accurately determine whether a patient has kidney disease.

      Example: In elderly males with suspected kidney disease, what is the accuracy of markers for the levels of protein in a urine sample for diagnosing kidney disease?
  • Prognosis/predictions: A question that explores what happens to patients over the course of a disease or health condition.
    • If you want to know the typical outcomes of kidney dialysis for people like your father, you’re asking a prognosis/prediction question.
      Example: For male patients 60 years and older, how does kidney dialysis influence the risk of developing dry or itchy skin during the winter?

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