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Jt Comm J Qual Improv. 1999 Sep;25(9):462-9.

Pooling research results: benefits and limitations of meta-analysis.

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  • 1Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology, University of Ioannina School of Medicine, Greece.



Meta-analysis, the systematic and quantitative synthesis of evidence, has developed considerably in the 1990s and is emerging as an important methodology in medical decision making. As a research methodology, meta-analysis has benefits and limitations that must be acknowledged in its application.


The benefits of meta-analysis include the ability to improve the power of small or inconclusive studies to answer questions and the ability to identify sources of diversity across various types of studies. Meta-analysis may reveal how heterogeneity among populations affects the effectiveness of medical interventions in different settings and in different patients. It can also help detect biases, such as publication bias and "Tower of Babel" bias, as well as deficiencies in the design, conduct, analysis, and interpretation of research. In this way, it can also stimulate improvements in the quality of the data needed to optimize medical care.


Meta-analysis cannot improve the quality or reporting of the original studies. Other limitations come from misapplications of the method, such as when study diversity is ignored or mishandled in the analysis or when the variability of patient populations, the quality of the data, and the potential for underlying biases are not addressed.


Meta-analysis has promoted the sense that obtaining evidence is a global enterprise and that complete information needs to be evaluated and synthesized to obtain the most unbiased results. Analyzing sources of bias and diversity is essential to performing, understanding, and using meta-analyses in medical care.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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