The COVID-19 public health crisis has produced an immense and quickly evolving body of evidence. This research speed and volume, along with variability in quality, could overwhelm public health decision-makers striving to make timely decisions based on the best available evidence. In response to this challenge, the National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools developed a Rapid Evidence Service, building on internationally accepted rapid review methodologies, to address priority COVID-19 public health questions.
Each week, the Rapid Evidence Service team receives requests from public health decision-makers, prioritizes questions received, and frames the prioritized topics into searchable questions. We develop and conduct a comprehensive search strategy and critically appraise all relevant evidence using validated tools. We synthesize the findings into a final report that includes key messages, with a rating of the certainty of the evidence using GRADE, as well as an overview of evidence and remaining knowledge gaps. Rapid reviews are typically completed and disseminated within two weeks. From May 2020 to July 21, 2021, we have answered more than 31 distinct questions and completed 32 updates as new evidence emerged. Reviews receive an average of 213 downloads per week, with some reaching over 7700. To date reviews have been accessed and cited around the world, and a more fulsome evaluation of impact on decision-making is planned.
The development, evolution, and lessons learned from our process, presented here, provides a real-world example of how review-level evidence can be made available – rapidly and rigorously, and in response to decision-makers’ needs – during an unprecedented public health crisis.