BACKGROUND: There is a growing body of literature on surgical treatments for elderly patients with a hip fracture and the effects of various surgical procedures on complications and postoperative outcomes. No single review has previously summarized the literature on the effects of surgical procedures on outcomes after treatment across all types of hip fractures. We conducted a comprehensive systematic literature review to organize the clinical evidence for patient-centered outcomes across all types of geriatric hip fractures. METHODS: We searched MEDLINE, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Scirus, and ClinicalTrials.gov for randomized clinical trials and observational studies published between 1985 and 2008. We also manually searched reference lists from relevant systematic reviews. RESULTS: We found eighty-four [corrected] articles representing seventy-four [corrected] unique, randomized, controlled trials, including thirty-three [corrected] on femoral neck fractures, forty on intertrochanteric fractures, and one on subtrochanteric fractures. Nine observational studies addressed the link between patient characteristics and outcome variables by fracture type. Age, sex, prefracture functioning, and cognitive impairment are related to mortality and functional outcomes. Fracture type does not appear to be independently related to patient outcomes. Mortality, pain, function, and quality of life did not differ by surgical implant class, or by implants within a class. Neither the randomized controlled trials nor the observational literature include the full complement of potential covariates that can impact treatment outcomes after treatment. CONCLUSIONS: The broader questions about the relationship of patient factors, fracture type, and specific treatments to the outcomes of mortality, functional status, and quality of life cannot be addressed with the existing literature. Research should include comprehensive conceptual models that capture complete sets of important independent variables. Studies of musculoskeletal outcomes, including hip fracture, require well-defined patient groups and consistent use of validated outcome measures.