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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Can a core outcome set improve the quality of systematic reviews? – a survey of the Co-ordinating Editors of Cochrane review groups

Jamie J Kirkham1*, Elizabeth Gargon1, Mike Clarke2 and Paula R Williamson1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biostatistics, University of Liverpool, Shelley’s Cottage, Brownlow Street, Liverpool, L69 3GS, UK

2 Centre for Public Health, Queen’s University Belfast, Grosvenor Road, Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, BT12 6BA, UK

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Trials 2013, 14:21  doi:10.1186/1745-6215-14-21

Published: 22 January 2013

Abstract

Background

Missing outcome data or the inconsistent reporting of outcome data in clinical research can affect the quality of evidence within a systematic review. A potential solution is an agreed standardized set of outcomes known as a core outcome set (COS) to be measured in all studies for a specific condition. We investigated the amount of missing patient data for primary outcomes in Cochrane systematic reviews, and surveyed the Co-ordinating Editors of Cochrane Review Groups (CRGs) on issues related to the standardization of outcomes in their CRG’s reviews. These groups are responsible for the more than 7,000 protocols and full versions of Cochrane Reviews that are currently available, and the several hundred new reviews published each year, presenting the world’s largest collection of standardized systematic reviews in health care.

Methods

Using an unselected cohort of Cochrane Reviews, we calculated and presented the percentage of missing patient data for the primary outcome measure chosen for each review published by each CRG. We also surveyed the CRG Co-ordinating Editors to see what their policies are with regards to outcome selection and outcomes to include in the Summary of Finding (SoF) tables in their Cochrane Reviews. They were also asked to list the main advantages and challenges of standardizing outcomes across all reviews within their CRG.

Results

In one fifth of the 283 reviews in the sample, more than 50% of the patient data for the primary outcome was missing. Responses to the survey were received from 90% of Co-ordinating Editors. Thirty-six percent of CRGs have a centralized policy regarding which outcomes to include in the SoF table and 73% of Co-ordinating Editors thought that a COS for effectiveness trials should be used routinely for a SoF table.

Conclusions

The reliability of systematic reviews, in particular meta-analyses they contain, can be improved if more attention is paid to missing outcome data. The availability of COSs for specific health conditions might help with this and the concept has support from the majority of Co-ordinating Editors in CRGs.

Keywords:
COMET; Cochrane review groups; Co-ordinating editors; Core outcome set; ORBIT; Systematic reviews; Survey