Systematic reviews and accompanying meta-analyses are the cornerstones of evidence-based medicine. Systematic reviews summarize clinical evidence; meta-analyses provide summary estimates of the treatment effect or the diagnostic test accuracy. Although deemed to provide the highest level of evidence, their clinical value is limited as they can only summarize aggregated data. In these meta-analyses the true variability of the treatment effects cannot be explored to the desired extent, because the meta-analyses cannot distinguish between patients with different clinical profiles. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses based on individual patient data (IPD), described as the ‘gold standard’ for systematic reviews are a promising approach that might overcome these limitations. IPD meta-analyses allow treatment effects and diagnostic accuracy to be estimated at the level of relevant patient subgroups. This enables researchers to investigate the effectiveness of treatment in patients with different profiles. In this article, we address the opportunities of systematic reviews and meta-analyses using IPD in reproductive medicine. We discuss its potential based on three clinical examples: single versus double embryo transfer in IVF, the diagnosis of tubal pathology and the prognostic value of ovarian reserve tests. We propose to show potential advantages of IPD systematic reviews and meta-analyses in providing stratified clinical evidence, which could improve medical care.
- systematic review
- individual patient data meta-analysis
- embryo transfer
- tubal pathology
- ovarian reserve