Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Conducting systematic reviews of diagnostic studies: didactic guidelines

Walter L Devillé12*, Frank Buntinx3, Lex M Bouter1, Victor M Montori4, Henrica CW de Vet1, Danielle AWM van der Windt1 and P Dick Bezemer15

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Research in Extramural Medicine (EMGO Institute), VU University Medical Centre, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

2 Programme Migrant Health, Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (Nivel), Utrecht, The Netherlands

3 Department of General Practice, Catholic University Leuven, Leuven, Belgium & Department of General Practice, University of Maastricht, Maastricht, The Netherlands

4 Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism, Nutrition and Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, USA

5 Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, VU University Medical Centre, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2002, 2:9  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-2-9

Published: 3 July 2002



Although guidelines for critical appraisal of diagnostic research and meta-analyses have already been published, these may be difficult to understand for clinical researchers or do not provide enough detailed information.


Development of guidelines based on a systematic review of the evidence in reports of systematic searches of the literature for diagnostic research, of methodological criteria to evaluate diagnostic research, of methods for statistical pooling of data on diagnostic accuracy, and of methods for exploring heterogeneity.


Guidelines for conducting diagnostic systematic reviews are presented in a stepwise fashion and are followed by comments providing further information. Examples are given using the results of two systematic reviews on the accuracy of the urine dipstick in the diagnosis of urinary tract infections, and on the accuracy of the straight-leg-raising test in the diagnosis of intervertebral disc hernia.