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According to the Cochrane Collaboration, a systematic review summarises the results of available carefully designed healthcare studies (controlled trials) and provides a high level of evidence on the effectiveness of healthcare interventions. Judgments may be made about the evidence and inform recommendations for healthcare.
These reviews are complicated and depend largely on what clinical trials are available, how they were carried out (the quality of the trials) and the health outcomes that were measured. Review authors pool numerical data about effects of the treatment through a process called meta-analyses. Then authors assess the evidence for any benefits or harms from those treatments. In this way, systematic reviews are able to summarise the existing clinical research on a topic.
For more information and to better understand the differences between a traditional narrative review and a systematic review, see: Systematic reviews: synthesis of best evidence for clinical decisions.