Comparison of Registered and Reported Outcomes in Randomized Clinical Trials Published in Anesthesiology Journals

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Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Randomized clinical trials (RCTs) provide high-quality evidence for clinical decision-making. Trial registration is one of the many tools used to improve the reporting of RCTs by reducing publication bias and selective outcome reporting bias. The purpose of our study is to examine whether RCTs published in the top 6 general anesthesiology journals were adequately registered and whether the reported primary and secondary outcomes corresponded to the originally registered outcomes.

METHODS:

Following a prespecified protocol, an electronic database was used to systematically screen and extract data from RCTs published in the top 6 general anesthesiology journals by impact factor (Anaesthesia, Anesthesia & Analgesia, Anesthesiology, British Journal of Anaesthesia, Canadian Journal of Anesthesia, and European Journal of Anaesthesiology) during the years 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2015. A manual search of each journal’s Table of Contents was performed (in duplicate) to identify eligible RCTs. An adequately registered trial was defined as being registered in a publicly available trials registry before the first patient being enrolled with an unambiguously defined primary outcome. For adequately registered trials, the outcomes registered in the trial registry were compared with the outcomes reported in the article, with outcome discrepancies documented and analyzed by the type of discrepancy.

RESULTS:

During the 4 years studied, there were 860 RCTs identified, with 102 RCTs determined to be adequately registered (12%). The proportion of adequately registered trials increased over time, with 38% of RCTs being adequately registered in 2015. The most common reason in 2015 for inadequate registration was registering the RCT after the first patient had already been enrolled. Among adequately registered trials, 92% had at least 1 primary or secondary outcome discrepancy. In 2015, 42% of RCTs had at least 1 primary outcome discrepancy, while 90% of RCTs had at least 1 secondary outcome discrepancy.

CONCLUSIONS:

Despite trial registration being an accepted best practice, RCTs published in anesthesiology journals have a high rate of inadequate registration. While mandating trial registration has increased the proportion of adequately registered trials over time, there is still an unacceptably high proportion of inadequately registered RCTs. Among adequately registered trials, there are high rates of discrepancies between registered and reported outcomes, suggesting a need to compare a published RCT with its trial registry entry to be able to fully assess the quality of the study. If clinicians base their decisions on evidence distorted by primary outcome switching, patient care could be negatively affected.

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