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Evidence Synthesis

The Psychological Health Center of Excellence creates systematic reviews and rapid reviews. These reviews can help stakeholders in the Military Health System make decisions about psychological health care.

What is a systematic review?

Systematic reviews answer specific questions by evaluating and summarizing existing research. For example, they can help us better understand how safe and effective a health care intervention is. Systematic reviews are different than other types of reviews because they use a transparent and thorough process to identify and evaluate research studies. The Institute of Medicine in 2011 in Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews, Cochrane, and other organizations outline best practices for conducting these reviews.

What is a rapid review?

Systematic reviews are considered one of the best ways to synthesize evidence. They provide comprehensive, thoroughly researched summaries of current science. They are extremely helpful in informing health care practices and policies that are supported by scientific research. They can, however, require several resources and take up to several years to complete. Alternatively, “rapid reviews” can be conducted when evidence summaries are needed within a shorter timeframe.

Unlike systematic reviews, rapid reviews don’t follow a standard set of methods. Instead, they modify traditional systematic review procedures to reduce the amount of time and resources needed. The table below shows some potential modifications. Rapid reviews differ depending on the stakeholder's goal, the topic’s scope, and the amount of time available to complete the review.

Expediting the Systematic Review Process


Systematic Reviews

Rapid Reviews

Time to Complete

12 months–several years

1–6 months

Review Topic

Comprehensive key questions addressing effectiveness, safety, cost, etc.

Limited number and complexity of key questions

Search Strategy

Sensitive, systematic search for published and grey literature

Abbreviated search using a limited number of databases and resources

May apply restrictions limiting results to certain publication dates, study types, language, etc.

Screen and Select

Inclusive, pre-defined criteria for inclusion

Two reviewers concurrently reviewing and selecting studies

Meticulous review of full-text articles and extraction of multiple data elements

Narrow criteria for inclusion, which may be iteratively redefined based on search results

Single reviewer screening and selection of studies

Limited data elements for extraction

Synthesis and Conclusions

Qualitative and quantitative synthesis of findings

May include meta-analysis

Comprehensive critical appraisal of individual studies and quality of evidence assessment

Descriptive summary of findings

Characteristics of included studies

May include critical appraisal of individual study designs

How does PHCoE conduct reviews?

PHCoE receives topics of interest for evidence synthesis from leaders and decision-makers across the MHS. A team of PHCoE staff works with the requestor to refine key questions and devise a protocol for conducting the review. The PHCoE team then executes the agreed upon methodology to produce the report. In the past several years, our reviews have focused on the topics presented in the graphic below.

Graphic with the words traumatic brain injury, adjustment disorders, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, intimate partner violence, anxiety, ecological momentary assessment, depression, embedded behavioral health, Covid-19, mental health, lethal means safety, stress, posttraumatic stress disorder, occupational functioning,  mindfulness, social media, ketamine, music therapy, well-being, repetitive transcranial magnetic simulation, social support, military working dogs, adverse childhood experiences, readiness, criminality, combat exposure, behavioral health, telehealth, neurofeedback

Recent Reviews

View peer-reviewed publications:

View full report:

Reviews funded by PHCoE

Some of the reviews listed below may now be outdated. Because more recent literature could have changed the state of the evidence, you should interpret these reports with caution.

Systematic Reviews of Psychological Health Research to Address Gaps in Practice (Southern California EPC – RAND Corporation)

View full reports:

View peer reviewed publication:

  • Clinical interventions for adults with co-morbid alcohol use and depressive disorders (link to come)

Meditation-based Interventions (Southern California EPC – RAND Corporation)

View full reports:

Needle Acupuncture Interventions (Southern California EPC – RAND Corporation)

View full reports:

Last Updated: April 16, 2024
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