Insights from systematic reviews can help new studies better meet the priorities and needs of patients and communities. However, systematic reviews unfortunately have not yet achieved this position to direct and guide new research studies. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Evidence-based Practice Center Program uses systematic reviews to identify gaps in current evidence and has developed a systematic process of prioritizing these gaps with stakeholder input into clearly defined “future research needs.” Eight Evidence-based Practice Centers began to apply this effort in 2010 to various clinical and policy topics.
Gaps that prevented systematic reviewers from answering central questions of the review may include insufficient studies on subpopulations, insufficient studies with appropriate comparators, lack of appropriate outcomes measured, and methods problems. Stakeholder panels, consisting of advocacy groups, patients, researchers, clinicians, funders, and policymakers, help refine the gaps through multiple conference calls and prioritization exercises. Each report highlights a focused set of 4 to 15 high-priority needs with an accompanying description of possible considerations for study design. Identification of high-priority research needs could potentially speed the development and implementation of high-priority, stakeholder-engaged research.