Systematic reviews (SRs) of TCM have become increasingly popular in China and have been published in large numbers. This review provides the first examination of epidemiological characteristics of these SRs as well as compliance with the PRISMA and AMSTAR guidelines.
To examine epidemiological and reporting characteristics as well as methodological quality of SRs of TCM published in Chinese journals.
Four Chinese databases were searched (CBM, CSJD, CJFD and Wanfang Database) for SRs of TCM, from inception through Dec 2009. Data were extracted into Excel spreadsheets. The PRISMA and AMSTAR checklists were used to assess reporting characteristics and methodological quality, respectively.
A total of 369 SRs were identified, most (97.6%) of which used the terms systematic review or meta-analysis in the title. None of the reviews had been updated. Half (49.8%) were written by clinicians and nearly half (47.7%) were reported in specialty journals. The impact factors of 45.8% of the journals published in were zero. The most commonly treated conditions were diseases of the circulatory and digestive disease. Funding sources were not reported for any reviews. Most (68.8%) reported information about quality assessment, while less than half (43.6%) reported assessing for publication bias. Statistical mistakes appeared in one-third (29.3%) of reviews and most (91.9%) did not report on conflict of interest.
While many SRs of TCM interventions have been published in Chinese journals, the quality of these reviews is troubling. As a potential key source of information for clinicians and researchers, not only were many of these reviews incomplete, some contained mistakes or were misleading. Focusing on improving the quality of SRs of TCM, rather than continuing to publish them in great quantity, is urgently needed in order to increase the value of these studies.