A Process for Systematically Reviewing the Literature: Providing the Research Evidence for Public Health Nursing Interventions
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BACKGROUND: Several groups have outlined methodologies for systematic literature reviews of the effectiveness of interventions. The Effective Public Health Practice Project (EPHPP) began in 1998. Its mandate is to provide research evidence to guide and support the Ontario Ministry of Health in outlining minimum requirements for public health services in the province. Also, the project is expected to disseminate the results provincially, nationally, and internationally. Most of the reviews are relevant to public health nursing practice. AIMS: This article describes four issues related to the systematic literature reviews of the effectiveness of public health nursing interventions: (1) the process of systematically reviewing the literature, (2) the development of a quality assessment instrument, (3) the results of the EPHPP to date, and (4) some results of the dissemination strategies used. METHODS: The eight steps of the systematic review process including question formulation, searching and retrieving the literature, establishing relevance criteria, assessing studies for relevance, assessing relevant studies for methodological quality, data extraction and synthesis, writing the report, and dissemination are outlined. Also, the development and assessment of content and construct validity and intrarater reliability of the quality assessment questionnaire used in the process are described. RESULTS: More than 20 systematic reviews have been completed. Content validity was ascertained by the use of a number of experts to review the questionnaire during its development. Construct validity was demonstrated through comparisons with another highly rated instrument. Intrarater reliability was established using Cohen's Kappa. Dissemination strategies used appear to be effective in that professionals report being aware of the reviews and using them in program planning/policymaking decisions. CONCLUSIONS: The EPHPP has demonstrated the ability to adapt the most current methods of systematic literature reviews of effectiveness to questions related to public health nursing. Other positive outcomes from the process include the development of a critical mass of public health researchers and practitioners who can actively participate in the process, and the work on dissemination has been successful in attracting external funds. A program of research in this area is being developed.