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Advantages and challenges of narrative reviews and Delphi consensus initiatives

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Narrative reviews and Delphi consensus initiatives come with their own unique set of benefits and challenges, which were explored in an article published in the MAP newsletter from the International Society of Medical Publications Professionals (ISMPP).

The authors stress that the aim of a narrative review should be to provide a reliable and credible educational tool that addresses an unmet need. The credibility of the finished article relies on adherence to best practice, including GPP3. The authors provide helpful guidance on how to approach a narrative review, including:

  • Use a defined search strategy (databases, keywords, search strings)
  • Provide the dates used for searches
  • Identify the target journal early; pre-submission enquiries are advisable
  • Re-run the literature search at the end of the process to check for new findings
  • Carry out a web search of the topic too, for additional context
  • Use a scale like SANRA (Scale for the Assessment of Narrative Review Articles) to “score” the review

They also looked at Delphi consensus initiatives, which bring together experts to review the literature and combine their findings with their own real-world experience. Experts then use this approach systematically to draft consensus statements that “provide a holistic view of current thinking in the field”. The process involves iterative cycles of anonymous responses to revise and shape the statements. The MAP article authors outline several potential challenges to conducting a successful Delphi consensus process:

  • Lack of agreement among panel members
  • Early consensus can lead to a lack of input from real-world evidence
  • Balancing the size of the panel between to ensure a good geographical spread while keeping the numbers manageable
  • Keeping the process on track
  • Distribution and validation of the Delphi consensus outcomes at the end

Well-conducted narrative reviews and Delphi consensus initiatives have important places in the literature and are an excellent source of information for healthcare professionals, researchers and patients. Guidance such as that provided by the authors of the MAP article can help to further strengthen our approach to the development of these publications.

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Summary by Jo Chapman PhD from Aspire Scientific

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With thanks to our sponsors, Aspire Scientific Ltd and NetworkPharma Ltd


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