Reporting of clinical trials: a review of research funders' guidelines.
Dwan K., Gamble C., Williamson PR., Altman DG.
BACKGROUND: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) represent the gold standard methodological design to evaluate the effectiveness of an intervention in humans but they are subject to bias, including study publication bias and outcome reporting bias. National and international organisations and charities give recommendations for good research practice in relation to RCTs but to date no review of these guidelines has been undertaken with respect to reporting bias. METHODS: National and international organisations and UK based charities listed on the Association for Medical Research Charities website were contacted in 2007; they were considered eligible for this review if they funded RCTs. Guidelines were obtained and assessed in relation to what was written about trial registration, protocol adherence and trial publication. It was also noted whether any monitoring against these guidelines was undertaken. This information was necessary to discover how much guidance researchers are given on the publication of results, in order to prevent study publication bias and outcome reporting bias. RESULTS: Seventeen organisations and 56 charities were eligible of 140 surveyed for this review, although there was no response from 12. Trial registration, protocol adherence, trial publication and monitoring against the guidelines were often explicitly discussed or implicitly referred too. However, only eleven of these organisations or charities mentioned the publication of negative as well as positive outcomes and just three of the organisations specifically stated that the statistical analysis plan should be strictly adhered to and all changes should be reported. CONCLUSION: Our review indicates that there is a need to provide more detailed guidance for those conducting and reporting clinical trials to help prevent the selective reporting of results. Statements found in the guidelines generally refer to publication bias rather than outcome reporting bias. Current guidelines need to be updated and include the statement that all primary and secondary outcomes prespecified in the protocol should be fully reported and should not be selected for inclusion in the final report based on their results.