Systematic reviews now under one umbrella

For many years, Institute for Work & Health (IWH) researchers have undertaken systematic reviews (in-depth search and analysis of existing scientific literature) on interventions for the treatment of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Since 1996, the Institute has co-ordinated the Cochrane Back Review Group. This Group is part of the international Cochrane Collaboration, the world’s leading source of evidence about the effects of healthcare on health.

More recently, the Institute consolidated its various review activities into a new Systematic Reviews Program, with special emphasis on preventive interventions in the workplace (with funding provided by the Workplace Safety & Insurance Board) and with a new emphasis on consulting stakeholders. Given our growing expertise in the systematic review arena, the next step was to initiate a program that would continue to benefit all of our stakeholders. It just made sense that these various strands of activity fall under one umbrella at IWH, says Institute Chief Scientist Dr. Tony Culyer.

The Institute’s Systematic Reviews Program was formally launched in the fall of 2005, and already it’s off to a very busy and productive start. To date, several systematic reviews have been completed on important work-and-health topics such as risk factors for work injury among youth, occupational health and safety management systems, and the effectiveness of workplace ergonomic programs.

The program comprises three connected elements

Products: Following the completion of each systematic review, a scientific report is written, which includes a general summary for non-technical readers. Scientific articles are also prepared and submitted to peer-reviewed journals.

Training: The Institute shares its expertise in systematic reviews through training opportunities for stakeholders. “Training workshops are an important component of this new program,” says Emma Irvin, Manager of the Systematic Reviews Program.

Methods: IWH research staff are developing new methods for conducting systematic reviews and for synthesizing the evidence.

How are systematic review topics chosen at IWH?

Institute staff conduct a comprehensive stakeholder consultation process that includes input from health-and-safety organizations, clinicians, policy-makers, employers and workers. Visitors to the IWH web site can also submit their suggestions for review topics online. We wanted to make sure that what we spend our time on will be relevant and useful to our stakeholders, says Culyer. Once a topic is selected and the lead researcher chosen, the literature review begins. (For more information about how systematic reviews are conducted, see Infocus, Summer 2004). After the review is completed, a scientific report and a general audience summary are written and made available through the IWH web site. The key messages from each review are then communicated to those stakeholders who can use the results in practice or in policy making. (see Four roundtables, 50 voices: Moving from research evidence to action)

We are in the first quarter of 2006 and already we are actively carrying out reviews on topics such as the effectiveness of training and educational interventions, and the economic evaluation of workplace interventions, adds Irvin. There is no prospect of this activity slowing down in the foreseeable future.

Source: At Work, Issue 44, Spring 2006: Institute for Work & Health, Toronto