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Southampton Health Technology Assessments CentreNews

Systematic review of approaches for the peer-review of health research grant applications: SHTAC is presenting results at the June 2017 HTAi Annual Meeting

Published: 15 June 2017
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SHTAC presents “Peer Review Innovations for Grant Applications: Efficient & Effective?" at HTAi 2017

Results of a new review of innovations for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of peer-review of health research grant applications will be presented by SHTAC at the 2017 Annual Meeting of HTAi in Rome. The work, which included a systematic map and a focused systematic review, provided a comprehensive overview of the different types of peer review approaches that have been employed for selecting health research proposals for funding.

Peer review is a key aspect of the process used to ensure that health research proposals submitted to funding agencies are of the highest scientific merit and are appropriate to policy and practice needs. However, the efficiency and effectiveness of peer review in identifying the ‘best’ proposals for funding has been questioned. For instance, peer review is often time consuming and expensive to conduct and administer; standard peer review approaches may bias against the selection of novel and innovative methods which are unfamiliar to the reviewers; and funding decisions may not fully reflect the needs of patients.

Despite the routine use of peer review in the selection of health research proposals for funding, information on the efficiency and effectiveness of the peer review approaches is lacking. A systematic map was produced to ascertain the ‘state of the art’ in this area and summarise characteristics of the studies which have investigated a wide range of peer review approaches. The map was presented to a stakeholder group from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to identify which types of peer review innovation could be prioritised for a more in-depth full systematic review.   

From an initial 1824 references identified and screened, 83 unique studies met the criteria for inclusion in the systematic map, of which eight were prioritised for in-depth appraisal in a systematic review. The review focused on innovative approaches to peer review which have been tested for their efficiency or effectiveness. Approaches which have the most evidence are those in which the proposal and/or peer review process have been simplified (e.g. by shortening the application form and using smaller numbers of peer reviewers); and approaches incorporating remote peer-review meetings by videoconference or teleconference. Some of the peer review innovations appear promising for improving efficiency (e.g. reducing peer review time and costs, or improving reviewer agreement) but this has to be weighed up against a range of methodological limitations and uncertainties.

Results of the systematic map and systematic review will be presented by Dr Geoff Frampton from SHTAC at the Health Technology Assessment International (HTAi) 2017 Annual Meeting in Rome (19th June).

For more information on SHTAC’s work on research methodology please visit our Research page





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