Original Communications| Volume 125, ISSUE 1, P41-45, January 1999

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Clinical trials in general surgical journals: Are methods better reported?


      Background: Reports of clinical trials often lack adequate descriptions of their design and analysis. Thus readers cannot properly assess the strength of the findings and are limited in their ability to draw their own conclusions. A review of 6 surgical journals in 1984 revealed that the frequency of reporting 11 basic elements of design and analysis in clinical trials was only 59%. This study attempted to identify areas that still need improvement. Methods: Eligible studies published from July 1995 through June 1996 included all reports of comparative clinical trials on human subjects that were prospective and had at least 2 treatment arms. A total of 68 articles published in 6 general surgery journals were reviewed. The frequency that the previously identified 11 basic elements of design and analysis were reported was determined. Results: Seventy-four percent of all items were reported accurately (a 15% increase from the previous study), 4% were reported ambiguously, and 23% were not reported; improvement was seen in every journal. The reporting of eligibility criteria and statistical power improved the most. For 3 items, reporting was still not adequate; 32% of reports provided information about statistical power, 40% about the method of randomization, and 49% about whether the person assessing outcomes was blind to the treatment assignment. Conclusions: Improvements have been made in reporting surgical clinical trials, but in general methodologic questions poorly answered in the 1980s continue to be answered poorly in the 1990s. Editors of surgical journals are urged to provide authors with guidelines on how to report clinical trial design and analysis. (Surgery 1999;125:41-5.)
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