Jayne Tierney and colleagues offer guidance on how to spot a well-designed and well-conducted individual participant data meta-analysis.
• Systematic reviews are most commonly based on aggregate data extracted from publications or obtained from trial investigators.
• Systematic reviews involving the central collection and analysis of individual participant data (IPD) usually are larger-scale, international, collaborative projects that can bring about substantial improvements to the quantity and quality of data, give greater scope in the analyses, and provide more detailed and robust results.
• The process of collecting, checking, and analysing IPD is more complex than for aggregate data, and not all IPD meta-analyses are done to the same standard, making it difficult for researchers, clinicians, patients, policy makers, funders, and publishers to judge their quality.
• Following our step-by-step guide will help reviewers and users of IPD meta-analyses to understand them better and recognise those that are well designed and conducted and so help ensure that policy, practice, and research are informed by robust evidence about the effects of interventions.