Introduction to Systematic Reviews of Health Interventions

This short course gives a detailed introduction to the methods involved in conducting a systematic review of an intervention, and enables participants to plan and commence a review of their own. The course takes a step-by-step approach to the tasks and methods involved in conducting a systematic review to answer a question about the effects of a health-related intervention, from a simple drug treatment to a complex public health or health systems intervention.

A mixture of presentations and hands-on activities are used to introduce participants to major aspects of the review process. Participants are encouraged to identify a topic for a systematic review that they can develop during hands-on sessions.

Learning objectives

  • Describe the purpose and role of systematic reviews in the context of other approaches to evidence synthesis
  • Describe with the general methods and principles required to prepare a systematic review of interventions
  • Identify the key concepts of systematic reviews, as described in the Cochrane Handbook, such as question formulation, risk of bias, synthesis and interpreting findings
  • Be able to draft a protocol for a systematic review


Getting started with a systematic review Collecting data
Defining your review question Analysing dichotomous outcomes
Searching for studies Analysing continuous outcomes
Selecting studies Introduction to meta-analysis
Planning a trial Interpreting results and drawing conclusions
Assessing the risk of bias  

Scholar testimonials

The last Introduction to Systematic Reviews of Health Interventions course received an average rating of 4.58 / 5 on the participant evaluation form assessing the overall quality of the course. Below are some sample comments from participants.

‘Well-paced delivery and extremely knowledgeable presenters who obviously have heaps of experience. Their ability to distil complex ideas into easily digestable ideas was fantastic.’

'Had my first "a-ha!" moment with meta-analysis – feels demystified for the first time.’

‘Very well structured, comprehensive, and engagingly delivered. Thanks!’

Who should attend

This course is suitable for anyone thinking about conducting a systematic review of a health intervention. The course is presented by Cochrane Australia, and is based on training provided for authors of Cochrane systematic reviews.

Please note that the course does not cover methods for systematic reviews of non-intervention questions such as prevalence, aetiology, risk factors, diagnostic test accuracy or prognosis.

Course Directors

Dr Sue Brennan

Research Fellow, Cochrane Australia

Sue is a Research Fellow at Cochrane Australia, in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine where she leads the Melbourne GRADE centre and contributes to Cochrane’s program of work on the translation of research into policy. Her role includes producing and facilitating the use of systematic reviews for health policy decision-making. She has been lead investigator on six reviews commissioned to inform NHMRC national guidelines, and the methodological lead on reviews of public health and healthcare improvement interventions.

Sue conducts research that aims to (i) advance methods for research synthesis and the uptake of these methods, and to (ii) develop practical, evidence-based approaches for enabling decision-makers to use research. Her collaborative research on methods for evidence synthesis has informed workshops and guidance for systematic review authors, including co-authoring four chapters in the 2019 edition of the Cochrane handbook.

Sue is a lead investigator on a project to develop GRADE methods for overviews of systematic reviews, and a member of the NHMRC Health Evidence panel. Through her roles in Cochrane and the GRADE working group, she works with policy-makers and guideline developers to implement GRADE methods for assessing research and making evidence-based recommendations.

Mr Steve McDonald

Senior Research Fellow, Cochrane Australia

Steve McDonald is a Senior Research Fellow and Co-Director of Cochrane Australia. He is responsible for leading the learning and education program of Cochrane Australia and regularly teaches on evidence synthesis courses in Australia and South East Asia. He has extensive experience in conducting systematic reviews for Cochrane, as well as a range of government agencies, including Australia’s National Health & Medical Research Council.

Steve has a background in information science and his research interests include innovations to enhance the efficiency of evidence synthesis through automation; information retrieval methods and search strategy design; and methods for conducing overviews of reviews. Steve was a co-lead on Project Transform, a three-year flagship health evidence project funded by NHMRC and Cochrane, that developed machine classifiers to improve the efficiency of study identification. He is currently evaluating the application of these new technologies to support living systematic reviews and living guidelines through a part-time PhD.

Steve graduated in Social and Political Sciences from the University of Cambridge in 1991. He has a Masters in Information Science from Loughborough University and a Graduate Diploma in International Health from Monash University. In 2015 he graduated from the Asialink Leaders Program. As part of Cochrane Australia's international responsibilities, he has helped establish and support Cochrane networks in South East Asia and East Asia. He was an elected member of Cochrane's Board of Directors from 2008 to 2015, and previously managed Cochrane’s international training program.

Dr Matthew Page

Research Fellow, Research Methodology

Matthew Page is a Research Fellow in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University, funded by an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award. He leads a programme of research on methods for evidence synthesis, which builds on the research undertaken during his PhD (2011-2015) and NHMRC Early Career Fellowship (2015-2019). He was a visiting postdoctoral fellow at the University of Bristol, UK, from 2015-2017.

Matthew's research interests span many areas of evidence synthesis, including examination of the transparency and reproducibility of systematic reviews; methods to address reporting biases (e.g. publication bias, selective reporting bias); tools to assess risk of bias in randomized trials and non-randomized studies of interventions; and examination of selective inclusion of results in meta-analyses. He is leading the update of the PRISMA reporting guideline for systematic reviews and meta-analyses, and was an associate editor for the 2019 edition of the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions. He frequently collaborates with clinicians on systematic reviews of interventions for a range of conditions, which often informs his research agenda.

Matthew's research has been published in Nature, the BMJ, PLoS Medicine, and Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. His expertise has been recognized in leadership and editorial appointments at organizations and journals focusing on evidence synthesis methods, including co-convenor of the Cochrane Bias Methods Group, and member of the editorial board for the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology and PLoS Medicine.

Dr Joanne McKenzie

Associate Professor, Research Methodology

Joanne McKenzie is an Associate Professor in the Biostatistics Unit at the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University. In 2012 she was awarded a PhD in methodological issues in meta-analysis of randomised trials with continuous outcomes. She has holds an NHMRC Career Development Fellowship and leads a programme of research on methods for evidence synthesis within the Biostatistics Unit.

In addition to the biostatistical and methodological research Joanne undertakes, she has been a biostatistical collaborator on a large range of projects. The focus of these collaborations has been on evaluations of public health and health services interventions (using individually and cluster randomised trials, and interrupted time series designs) and systematic reviews. Previous appointments include Senior Research Fellow at Cochrane Australia; Research Fellow, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, New Zealand (NZ); and, Project biostatistician for the NZ National Nutrition Survey, University of Otago. These appointments involved provision of statistical and design expertise.

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