The majority of observational studies in leading peer-reviewed medicine journals are not registered and do not have a publicly accessible protocol: a scoping review

Sophie Leducq, Faaris Zaki, Loes M. Hollestein, Christian Apfelbacher, Nikhil Prasanna Ponna, Rishabh Mazmudar, Sonia Gran*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

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Abstract

Objectives:
Observational studies are not subject to the same requirements as randomized controlled trials, such as registration or publishing a protocol. The aim of this scoping review was to estimate the registration rate of observational studies in leading peer-reviewed medicine journals and to evaluate whether protocols were available in the public domain.

Study Design and Setting:
In March 2023, we searched OVID Medline for observational studies published in 2022 in the top five general medicine journals according to impact factor (The Lancet, The British Medical Journal (BMJ), The Journal of the American Medical Association, The New England Journal of Medicine, and Annals of Internal Medicine). We defined an observational study as a cohort study, a case-control study, a cross-sectional study, or a case series. Information on i) the proportion of observational studies that have been registered and ii) the proportion of observational studies that have a protocol available in the public domain was extracted from a random sample of studies.

Results:
Our search identified 699 studies; 290 studies were selected as full text, and a random sample of 200 studies was included. For half of the studies, the first author worked at a US institution. Most studies were cohort studies (n = 126, 63.0%) and used administrative healthcare records, electronic healthcare records, and registries. Of the 200 observational studies, 20 (10.0%) were registered. Among those, 14 were prospectively registered. Twenty-four studies (12.0%) had a protocol available in the public domain. Studies that were registered or had a protocol, were more frequently published in the BMJ (n = 12/28, 42.9%), had a first author working in the UK (n = 10/28, 35.7%) and used electronic health care records (n = 13/28, 46.4%) compared to studies with no registration and no protocol.

Conclusion:
The rate of prospectively registered observational studies is worryingly low. Prospective registration of observational studies should be encouraged and standardized to ensure transparency in clinical research and reduce research waste.

Original languageEnglish
Article number111341
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Epidemiology
Volume170
Early online date29 Mar 2024
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors

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