Objectives: Economic evaluation (EE) is an accepted element of decision making and priority setting in healthcare. As the number of published EEs grows, so does the number of systematic reviews (SRs) of EEs. Although search methodology makes an important contribution to SR quality, search methods in reviews of EEs have not been evaluated in detail. We investigated the resources used to identify studies in recent, published SRs of EEs, and assessed whether the resources reflected recommendations.
Methods: We searched MEDLINE for SRs of EEs published since January 2013 and extracted the following from eligible reviews: databases searched, health technology assessment (HTA) sources searched, supplementary search techniques used. Results were compared against the minimum search resources recommended by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) (MEDLINE, Embase, NHS EED, EconLit) for economic evidence for single technology appraisals, and resource types suggested in the summary of current best evidence from SuRe Info (economic databases, general databases, HTA databases, HTA agency Web pages, gray literature).
Results: Sixty-five SRs met the inclusion criteria; data were extracted from forty-two. Five reviews (12 percent) met or exceeded the NICE recommended resources. Nine reviews (21 percent) searched at least four of the five types of resource recommended by SuRe Info. Five reviews (12 percent) searched all five. Twenty-three reviews (55 percent) did not meet the NICE recommendations or four of five of the SuRe Info recommended resource types. Search reporting was frequently unclear or incorrect.
Conclusions: Searches conducted for the majority of recently published SRs of EEs do not meet two published approaches.