Network Meta-analysis: Users’ Guide for Surgeons: Part I – Credibility
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Conventional meta-analyses quantify the relative effectiveness of two interventions based on direct (that is, head-to-head) evidence typically derived from randomized controlled trials (RCTs). For many medical conditions, however, multiple treatment options exist and not all have been compared directly. This issue limits the utility of traditional synthetic techniques such as meta-analyses, since these approaches can only pool and compare evidence across interventions that have been compared directly by source studies. Network meta-analyses (NMA) use direct and indirect comparisons to quantify the relative effectiveness of three or more treatment options. Interpreting the methodologic quality and results of NMAs may be challenging, as they use complex methods that may be unfamiliar to surgeons; yet for these surgeons to use these studies in their practices, they need to be able to determine whether they can trust the results of NMAs. The first judgment of trust requires an assessment of the credibility of the NMA methodology; the second judgment of trust requires a determination of certainty in effect sizes and directions. In this Users' Guide for Surgeons, Part I, we show the application of evaluation criteria for determining the credibility of a NMA through an example pertinent to clinical orthopaedics. In the subsequent article (Part II), we help readers evaluate the level of certainty NMAs can provide in terms of treatment effect sizes and directions.
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