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Rathbone, J., Albarqouni, L., Bakhit, M., Beller, E., Byambasuren, O., Hoffmann, T., Scott, A. M., & Glasziou, P. (2017). Expediting citation screening using PICo-based title-only screening for identifying studies in scoping searches and rapid reviews. Systematic Reviews, 6(1).

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Citation screening for scoping searches and rapid review is time-consuming and inefficient, often requiring days or sometimes months to complete. We examined the reliability of PICo-based title-only screening using keyword searches based on the PICo elements-Participants, Interventions, and Comparators, but not the Outcomes.


A convenience sample of 10 datasets, derived from the literature searches of completed systematic reviews, was used to test PICo-based title-only screening. Search terms for screening were generated from the inclusion criteria of each review, specifically the PICo elements-Participants, Interventions and Comparators. Synonyms for the PICo terms were sought, including alternatives for clinical conditions, trade names of generic drugs and abbreviations for clinical conditions, interventions and comparators. The MeSH database, Wikipedia, Google searches and online thesauri were used to assist generating terms. Title-only screening was performed by five reviewers independently in Endnote X7 reference management software using OR Boolean operator. Outcome measures were recall of included studies and the reduction in screening effort. Recall is the proportion of included studies retrieved using PICo title-only screening out of the total number of included studies in the original reviews. The percentage reduction in screening effort is the proportion of records not needing screening because the method eliminates them from the screen set.


Across the 10 reviews, the reduction in screening effort ranged from 11 to 78% with a median reduction of 53%. In nine systematic reviews, the recall of included studies was 100%. In one review (oxygen therapy), four of five reviewers missed the same included study (median recall 67%). A post hoc analysis was performed on the dataset with the lowest reduction in screening effort (11%), and it was rescreened using only the intervention and comparator keywords and omitting keywords for participants. The reduction in screening effort increased to 57%, and the recall of included studies was maintained (100%).


In this sample of datasets, PICo-based title-only screening was able to expedite citation screening for scoping searches and rapid reviews by reducing the number of citations needed to screen but requires a thorough workup of the potential synonyms and alternative terms. Further research which evaluates the feasibility of this technique with heterogeneous datasets in different fields would be useful to inform the generalisability of this technique.



This document has been peer reviewed.


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