What is an evidence gap?

SBU collects scientific evidence gaps in the field of healthcare, dental care, social services, occupational health and safety, and functioning and disability, in order to identify areas where new primary research is needed. Our database may serve as a tool for researchers and funding agencies to identify areas and research questions with existing evidence uncertainties. The goal is for future research initiatives to be directed towards projects that will have a positive impact on everyday life for patients, clients, and their families and carers.

What is an evidence gap?

By assessing and summarizing research in a systematic review, we can determine the current level of evidence for the effect of interventions and methods, and we can identify evidence uncertainties.

These uncertainties are called evidence gaps. Evidence gaps are identified when the available studies on an intervention or method are too few, too small, of insufficient quality or present conflicting results. Further practice-based research is then needed to gain knowledge about the effects of the intervention or method.

What is a scientific evidence gap according to SBU’s model and what is needed to fill the gap?

scientific evidence gap means that there is insufficient evidence to support the overall effect of the intervention or method, i.e. evidence derived from a systematic review. According to SBU’s model, there are three types of evidence gaps, depending on the research needed to fill the gap.

  • A systematic review is needed when we don’t know which studies have been undertaken and we cannot therefore assess the overall effect. Any primary studies need to be identified, assessed and summarized in a systematic review, in order to determine the current level of evidence.
  • More primary studies are needed when a reliable systematic review shows uncertainty about the overall effect. This may be due to lack of studies, or because the studies are at high risk of bias, there are too few studies, the studies are too small or show contradictory results; reliability of the overall effect is very low, for example according to Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluations (GRADE).
  • An updated systematic review is necessary in cases where an earlier review shows that more primary studies are needed and there is reason to believe that there are now more recent studies which might alter the level of evidence on the topic.

For an evidence gap to be entered into SBU’s database, it is a requirement that the intervention or method is used in Sweden or is considered likely to be considered for use in the near future.

Why is it important to identify evidence gaps?

  • Patients, clients, their families and carers as well as professionals gain understanding of the current level of evidence.
  • When choosing or prioritizing which interventions or methods should be used, information about where there are evidence gaps may support decision-making.
  • Research areas where practice-based research or systematic reviews are needed are highlighted.