AHRQ Announces Interest in Innovative Methods Research to Increase the Utility of Systematic Reviews

Notice Number: NOT-HS-15-011

Key Dates
Release Date: July 28, 2015

Related Announcements

Issued by
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)


The mission of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is to produce evidence to make health care safer, higher quality, more accessible, equitable, and affordable, and to work within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and with other partners to make sure that the evidence is understood and used. AHRQ achieves this mission by supporting evidence synthesis, translation, and implementation of evidence into practice.

This Special Emphasis Notice (SEN) informs the research community that AHRQ intends to support research designed to develop innovative systematic review methods that address the opportunities and challenges of the current era of data abundance, and make systematic reviews both more efficient and salient. Systematic reviews transform individual studies into a form of evidence that can be used to underpin guidelines, quality indicators, patient decision aids, and other products that shape patient care. Innovative systematic review methods may increase the speed and power of systematic reviews, increasing their value to the health care system and the patients it serves.

Areas of Interest

This SEN is intended to generate new methods for systematic review that address the opportunities and challenges of the current era of data abundance and that facilitate the integration of systematic reviews into healthcare decisions. In the past, much of the work in systematic review methodology focused on developing the basic tools of systematic review, especially reliable and standardized approaches to scoping, searching, assessing, synthesizing, and grading the evidence. There are now widely shared standards for how to conduct a high quality systematic review. The next challenge is developing novel or improved methods that optimize the efficiency, comprehensiveness, and predictive value of systematic reviews. Some potential areas of interest are described below:

  • Efficiency. Traditional systematic review approaches may not be sustainable given the ever increasing volume of studies and increasing demand for timely synthesized evidence. Faster techniques, without sacrificing validity and reliability, are increasingly valuable. Possible approaches include automation, incorporation of existing systematic reviews, predictors of marginal return, continuous updates and data reduction techniques.
  • New forms of data. We are on the verge of having access to large data sets both observational data and individual patient data from randomized controlled trials and patient registries. Tapping directly into this data could greatly enhance the power of systematic reviews and reduce the lag between knowledge generation and implementation. Possible approaches might include Bayesian stepwise analysis, informative priors, data linkage, subgroup analysis, etc.
  • Predictive value. Systematic review methodology is highly detailed for processes, but much less developed regarding outcomes. Now that a substantial number of systematic reviews have been completed and indexed, it may be possible to empirically examine how accurately different reviews predict future research findings and to use this information to develop more robust methods. Managing the tradeoff between Type I and Type II error is of particular concern.

These are just a few areas of methodological innovation of interest to AHRQ. Innovative applications addressing systematic review methods and issues not mentioned above are also welcomed. Applicants should describe the significance of their proposed research to enhancing the speed, power, predictive value, or otherwise advancing the utility of systematic reviews.

Further Guidance

Priority Populations. Systematic review methods may be applied to primary research involving all populations regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or socio-ethnic backgrounds. However, some populations are often underrepresented in clinical trials and therefore methods that address the issues discussed above in the context of priority populations are areas of interest to AHRQ. For purposes of this SEN, priority populations include low-income patients, the under- and uninsured, children, women, elderly, racial and ethnic minorities, and individuals with special health care needs.

Use of Funding Mechanism. AHRQ will use the standing R03 grant mechanism to support applications submitted in response to this notice. The current FOA for R03 submissions to AHRQ, PA-15-147, can be found at https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PA-15-147.html.

Limitations on Timelines and Funds. Due to limitations on available grant funds, R03 applications in response to this SEN are limited to total (direct plus indirect) costs of no more than $100,000 for the entire duration of the project which may not exceed one year.

Application Submission. Applicants should consider this SEN active for only two award cycles. These cycles have due dates on October 16, 2015 and February 16, 2016. AHRQ will provide updates of new developments and research priorities as research budget information becomes available. Applications will be reviewed by AHRQ's standing study sections. We encourage applicants to indicate in their applications that they are responding to this notice by including the title and number of this Notice. We also encourage applicants to include a cover letter in their application package stating their interest in this SEN.


Please direct all inquiries to:

Lionel L. Ba ez, M.D.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)
Center for Evidence and Practice Improvement
Telephone: 301-427-1514
Email: lionel.banez@ahrq.hhs.gov