What is a Meta-Analysis and How Does It Help Find Better Information?

If you are researching a course of treatment or a cause of disease for an aging parent, family member, or friend, the chances are that you will read scientific studies. Perhaps you will check PubMed, the National Institutes of Health site that has abstracts of all published scientific research. You can visit the National Library of Medicine online or in person, or maybe arrange to go to your local hospital library and check out medical journals.

What’s confusing about searching for information in this way? Well, for one thing, if you are looking for research that examines a particular treatment, disease, or intervention, you are as likely to find studies that describe the success as you are to find reliable research that identified failures.

What should you do in your search? To get a much bigger picture, try to locate a study that’s a meta-analysis.

For the lay, non-scientific person, a meta-analysis — a study of studies — takes into account all of the well-designed research that has been conducted on a particular topic. A meta-analysis is a statistical way of combining and examining a group of medical studies, and the results offer more statistical power, giving a better big picture of what is working and, sometimes more importantly, what is not. The results of a meta-analysis offer statistical strength because they combine the results of  many well-designed studies.

Do not confuse a meta-analysis with a literature review. In a literature review, the authors simply go over the studies to compare and contrast the results.

No individual study can be definitive, but meta-analysis can provide a bit more certainty on a topic, resolving at least some of the contradictions that may arise when you read individual studies.

Resources that I Read Before Writing this Post

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