Primary research provides the scientific foundation for evidence-based practice (EBP)--vital in the attainment of health for all people (World Health Organization, 2012). A comprehensive literature review is essential for determining what is known and not yet known regarding the clinical question (Coughlan, Cronin, & Ryan, 2013; Kearney, 2016). Conceptually, the Stevens Star Model of Knowledge Transformation offers a framework for moving the discovery of knowledge gleaned from research to implementation of evidence-based practice (Stevens, 2012). Yet, meaningful engagement in the synthesis of high-level health care research requires the use of a sophisticated set of technical skills including knowledge of research methods and metrics from which an unbiased assessment, evaluation, and categorization of the level of existing evidence can be made. Explicit methods for evaluating Systematic Reviews (SR’s) and meta-analyses [generated from multiple randomized control trials] are well established facilitating the translation of research findings into practice (Cochrane Handbook, 2011; Joanna Briggs Institute Reviewers’ Manual, 2014). The research foundation for many clinical questions, however, does not yet have the evidential basis from which SR’s are generated. Methodological strategies for capturing lower levels of evidence, emerging questions, and early concepts of clinical importance have historically been approached through more generalized research review processes. The terms integrative research review, evidence review, and scoping review are among the most commonly used to describe knowledge synthesis of a mixture of quantitative and qualitative topics in which lower levels of evidence are available. However, no single methodology has emerged as the gold standard for synthesis of research in this category. The purpose of this study therefore is to present a comparison of the similarities and differences in approaches to integrative scholarly reviews.
The research team comprised of the university library director and academic nursing faculty systematically searched the Cochrane Library, Joanna Briggs Institute, PubMed, CINAHL, and Medline Complete using “research reviews” AND “method*”as search terms for all articles published to date.
The search yielded 275 articles in the initial results. Studies with a primary purpose of reporting the methodology used for conducting the scholarly review were included. The reference lists were evaluated to generate additional applicable studies. Articles focused on a specific clinical question were excluded. Sixteen articles comprised the final sample. The purpose, key features, use of protocols for data collection and synthesis of data were compared for similarities and differences between integrative and scoping review methods.
Significant conceptual overlap and core commonalities exist between integrative and scoping approaches to knowledge synthesis. Primary differences also exist between the two methods. Scoping reviews generally do not assess evidence quality as compared to integrative reviews which tend to report the appraised strength of the evidence related to the clinical question. As nursing continues to advance knowledge synthesis, movement toward a standardized method for integrative scholarly reviews is needed.