The main purpose of The Cochrane Collaboration is to develop systematic reviews of the strongest evidence available about healthcare interventions. Consumers and health practitioners can then work together to make the best possible decisions about health care. The reviews are published electronically within The Cochrane Library and are freely accessible in shortened versions (abstracts and consumer summaries).
The reality is that keeping up-to-date with the latest health care is a serious challenge for healthcare providers. Research is being published every day, all over the world. Information appears in thousands of medical, scientific and health-related journals. Furthermore, the results of one healthcare study may be different from, or even contradictory to, the results of another study making it difficult to draw conclusions. Journals are published in a variety of languages and Cochrane review authors attempt to use translated articles, wherever possible, to produce a review.
What is The Cochrane Collaboration?
The Collaboration is a not-for-profit organisation based in the UK. To carry out its mission of producing systematic reviews, a central administration (the Secretariat) supports disease and health condition-based groups (Cochrane Review Groups) who work with authors and editors to develop systematic reviews. The Review Groups are spread across the world, generally based at universities and teaching hospitals.
The Cochrane Collaboration involves more than 10,000 people, worldwide. Most do not receive a payment for their Cochrane work as they are committed to its purpose. You can find out more about the history of the Collaboration, which began in the area of pregnancy and childbirth in 1993.
The main activity of the Collaboration is the preparation of Cochrane reviews that are published electronically in successive issues of The Cochrane Library. By publishing electronically, reviews can be added to the Library and existing reviews brought up-to-date as new clinical studies are completed and reported on.
The Cochrane Collaboration is named after a UK doctor, Archie Cochrane. Dr Cochrane studied patterns of disease and how these relate to the environment and life patterns; he was an epidemiologist. In the early 1970s, Dr Cochrane aroused a lot of interest by pointing out that many decisions in health care are made without reliable, up-to-date evidence about the treatments used.
People are still surprised to hear that many healthcare decisions are made without strong evidence on their effectiveness and lack of harms.
A Cochrane consumer shares his early impressions
As a biochemist, retired in 1995 after 45 years at the laboratory bench, I had been looking for a new scientific interest. I have atopic eczema and joined the National Eczema Society in 1996. Through exchange, I became aware of the Cochrane Skin Group and attended one of their Consumer Forums. This led to my becoming involved in handsearching dermatology journals for them.
At a meeting I learned of Archie Cochrane, a Professor of Epidemiology at Cardiff, who envisaged a library containing the results, analysis and conclusions of every controlled clinical trial ever carried out. Ideally, the treatments should be randomly allocated to patient groups and neither the administering physician nor the patient should know what treatment is being given. Only by such stringent controls can clinical trials be performed in a truly objective manner.
Doctors base their treatments on what they have been taught, their experience and what they have gleaned from the medical literature and from pharmaceutical companies. This information may be out-of-date, biased or incomplete. A systematic review of a group of clinical trials abstracted from journals showed that new clinical trials were performed long after a particular treatment outcome had been clearly demonstrated to be effective, or otherwise.