Variation in definitions of burn wound infection limits the validity of systematic review findings

Keng Siang Lee, Amber Young, Hayley King, Anna Davies*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Systematic reviews (SR) of high-quality randomised controlled trials can identify effective treatments for burn wound infections (BWIs). Clinical heterogeneity in outcome definitions can prevent valid evidence synthesis, which may limit the reliability of the findings of SRs affected by this heterogeneity. This SR aimed to investigate whether there is variation BWI definitions across studies in SRs of burn care interventions and its impact on identification of effective treatments for patients with burn injuries.
A systematic search of five databases was conducted. Included SRs were: in English, published from January 2010 to October 2018, assessed intervention effects for patients with a burn injury, and reported data about BWI.
Twenty-nine SRs, which included 248 studies reporting BWI outcomes, were included in our final dataset. Three SRs used a definition of BWI to select studies for inclusion. Fourteen reported BWI definitions from included studies in the review results. There was heterogeneity of BWI definition in their included studies; across 29 SRs, 32 different BWI indicators were used, with the median across SRs ranging from 1 to 7 (range 1–14). Fourteen SRs accounted for BWI definition heterogeneity in their conclusions, indicating that the issue impacted whether a conclusion could be drawn, and limited the validity of the SR findings.
There is variation in BWI definition across SRs and within the studies included in SRs of interventions assessing BWI outcomes. This heterogeneity has prevented conclusions about intervention effects being drawn, and only half of the SR authors have accounted for it in their findings. Reviews that have collated this data without reference to the heterogeneity should be viewed with caution, since it may limit the validity of evidence for the identification of effective treatments for BWI. The use of a newly developed core indicator set to support consistent reporting of indicators and standardisation of BWI outcome reporting will enable effective evidence synthesis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022


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