Comparison of descriptions of allocation concealment in trial protocols and the published reports: cohort study.
Pildal J., Chan A-W., Hróbjartsson A., Forfang E., Altman DG., Gøtzsche PC.
OBJECTIVES: To compare how allocation concealment is described in publications of randomised clinical trials and corresponding protocols, and to estimate how often trial publications with unclear allocation concealment have adequate concealment according to the protocol. DESIGN: Cohort study of 102 sets of trial protocols and corresponding publications. SETTING: Protocols of randomised trials approved by the scientific and ethical committees for Copenhagen and Frederiksberg, 1994 and 1995. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Frequency of adequate, unclear, and inadequate allocation concealment and sequence generation in trial publications compared with protocols, and the proportion of protocols where methods were reported to be adequate but descriptions were unclear in the trial publications. RESULTS: 96 of the 102 trials had unclear allocation concealment according to the trial publication. According to the protocols, 15 of these 96 trials had adequate allocation concealment (16%, 95% confidence interval 9% to 24%), 80 had unclear concealment (83%, 74% to 90%), and one had inadequate concealment. When retrospectively defined loose criteria for concealment were applied, 83 of the 102 trial publications had unclear concealment. According to their protocol, 33 of these 83 trials had adequate allocation concealment (40%, 29% to 51%), 49 had unclear concealment (59%, 48% to 70%), and one had inadequate concealment. CONCLUSIONS: Most randomised clinical trials have unclear allocation concealment on the basis of the trial publication alone. Most of these trials also have unclear allocation concealment according to their protocol.