Assessing applicability when comparing medical interventions: AHRQ and the Effective Health Care Program

David Atkins, Stephanie M. Chang, Gerald Gartlehner, David I. Buckley, Evelyn P. Whitlock, Elise Berliner, David Matchar

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Objective: To describe a systematic approach for identifying, reporting, and synthesizing information to allow consistent and transparent consideration of the applicability of the evidence in a systematic review according to the Population, Intervention, Comparator, Outcome, Setting domains. Study Design and Setting: Comparative effectiveness reviews need to consider whether available evidence is applicable to specific clinical or policy questions to be useful to decision makers. Authors reviewed the literature and developed guidance for the Effective Health Care program. Results: Because applicability depends on the specific questions and needs of the users, it is difficult to devise a valid uniform scale for rating the overall applicability of individual studies or body of evidence. We recommend consulting stakeholders to identify the factors most relevant to applicability for their decisions. Applicability should be considered separately for benefits and harms. Observational studies can help determine whether trial populations and interventions are representative of "real world" practice. Reviewers should describe differences between available evidence and the ideally applicable evidence for the question being asked and offer a qualitative judgment about the importance and potential effect of those differences. Conclusion: Careful consideration of applicability may improve the usefulness of systematic reviews in informing practice and policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1198-1207
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Clinical Epidemiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Applicability
  • Comparative effectiveness
  • External validity
  • Generalizability
  • Heterogeneity of treatment effect
  • Systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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