Friday, February 22, 2008

Reporting on randomised trials

From The Lancet a suggestion how to report on randomised trials:

For clinical trials, clear, transparent, and sufficiently detailed abstracts of journal articles and conference abstracts are important because readers often base their assessment of a trial on such information. Some use an abstract to decide whether to seek more information about a trial. However, in some parts of the world, health professionals often have access to the abstracts only, so health-care decisions are made on the basis of abstracts of randomised trials

It can be a life and death issue:

In 2006, Arthur Amman, President of Global Strategies for HIV Prevention, made a disquieting remark: “I recently met a physician from southern Africa, engaged in perinatal HIV prevention, whose primary access to information was abstracts posted on the internet. Based on a single abstract, they had altered their perinatal HIV prevention program from an effective therapy to one with lesser efficacy. Had they read the full text article they would have undoubtedly realized that the study results were based on short-term follow-up, a small pivotal group, incomplete data, and unlikely to be applicable to their country situation. Their decision to alter treatment based solely on the abstract's conclusions may have resulted in increased perinatal HIV transmission.”

What about a similar protocol for randomised trial studies in development economics?


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blackstone said...

Can you explain this a little bit more. I don't think i follow. Or you saying in southern africa that abstracts and not the full article are used to make decisions? Is this because they do no have access to the full journal article or because of habitual practice to just read the abstract?

martin de wit said...

The Lancet did report on such an occasion yes. Whether that is a general trend in (South) Africa I do not know. Given pressures on time and resources and partial access to on-line articles the incentives are certainly there to rely on abstracts only. One can either lament the fact that this happens or recognise the problem and really invest in better abstracts. The article in the Lancet argues for the latter and I tend to agree.