Cochrane Reviews

How do you know if one treatment will work better than another, or if it will do more harm than good?"

Cochrane Reviews are systematic reviews of primary research in human health care and health policy, and are internationally recognised as the highest standard in evidence-based health care. They investigate the effects of interventions for prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. They also assess the accuracy of a diagnostic test for a given condition in a specific patient group and setting. They are published online in The Cochrane Library.

Each systematic review addresses a clearly formulated question; for example: Can antibiotics help in alleviating the symptoms of a sore throat? All the existing primary research on a topic that meets certain criteria is searched for and collated, and then assessed using stringent guidelines, to establish whether or not there is conclusive evidence about a specific treatment. The reviews are updated regularly, ensuring that treatment decisions can be based on the most up-to-date and reliable evidence.

“We care that you care enough to help us provide people all over the world, with a personal or professional interest in health care, with reliable information.”

Sonja Henderson, former Managing Editor of the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group, Liverpool, UK

Cochrane Reviews are designed to facilitate the choices that practitioners, consumers, policy-makers and others face in health care.  

No other organisation matches the quality, volume, scope and range of healthcare topics addressed by Cochrane Reviews.

As well as covering hundreds of medical conditions and diverse healthcare topics such as injury prevention and natural treatments, Cochrane Reviews have an international appeal through their global coverage of healthcare issues affecting people in all countries and contexts, including resource-poor settings, where it is vital to ensure that funds are used to maximum benefit.

Without Cochrane Reviews, people making decisions are unlikely to be able to access and make full use of existing healthcare research.

“To ensure that the work of The Cochrane Collaboration is relevant to low and middle-income countries it is essential that people from those countries actively participate.”

Jimmy Volmink, Director of the South African Cochrane Centre and Coordinator of the Cochrane Developing Countries Network, Tygerberg, South Africa

Why are Cochrane Reviews different?

Cochrane Reviews enable the practice of evidence-based health care.

Health care decisions can be made based on the best available research, which is systematically assessed and summarised in a Cochrane Review.

Narrative reviews of healthcare research have existed for many decades, but are often not systematic. They may have been written by a recognised expert, but no one individual has the time to try to identify and bring together all relevant studies. Of more concern, an individual or company might actively seek to discuss and combine only the research which supports their opinions, prejudices or commercial interests. In contrast, a Cochrane Reviewcircumvents this by using a predefined, rigorous and explicit methodology.

A Cochrane Review is a scientific investigation in itself, with a pre-planned methods section and an assembly of original studies (predominantly randomised controlled trials and clinical controlled trials, but also sometimes, non-randomised observational studies) as their ‘subjects’. The results of these multiple primary investigations are synthesized by using strategies that limit bias and random error. These strategies include a comprehensive search of all potentially relevant studies and the use of explicit, reproducible criteria in the selection of studies for review. Primary research designs and study characteristics are appraised, data synthesized, and results interpreted.

Each review is prepared by an 'author team' with support from specialist librarians, methodologists, copy and content editors, and peer reviewers, taking hundreds of hours of work from start to finish.

“The Cochrane Collaboration has consistently involved consumers in its editorial processes, in the firm belief that the more consumers are involved, the more health services and research will grow in democracy, and will be tailored to people’s needs.”

Silvana Simi, Consumer Coordinator for the Cochrane Multiple Sclerosis Group, Pisa, Italy


The Cochrane20 Video series

As part of a series of events to mark our 20th Anniversary in 2013, twenty-four videos - the Cochrane20 Video Series - were created focusing on the ideas, achievements and people that have contributed to its growth since 1993. The seventh installment focusses specifically on the production of Cochrane Reviews.

The complete playlist can be found on our 20th Anniversary website and on YouTube.

Updated on: May 26, 2014, 11:27

Comments for improvement or correction are welcome.