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Reporting on quality of life in randomised controlled trials: bibliographic study

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 31 October 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1191
  1. Caroline Sanders, research assistant (Caroline.Sanders{at},
  2. Matthias Egger, reader in social medicine and epidemiology,
  3. Jenny Donovan, senior lecturer in health and health care,
  4. Deborah Tallon, research assistant,
  5. Stephen Frankel, professor of epidemiology and public health medicine.
  1. Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Canynge Hall, Bristol BS8 2PR
  1. Correspondence to: Ms Sanders


    Objectives : To examine the frequency and quality of reporting on quality of life in randomised controlled trials.

    Design : Search of the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register 1980 to 1997 to identify trials from all disciplines, from oncology, and from cardiovascular medicine that reported on quality of life. Assessment of abstracts from articles published from 1993 to 1996. Assessment of a sample of full reports with a standardised instrument.

    Main outcome measures : Prevalence of reporting on quality of life. Conditions and interventions studied in trials reporting on quality of life. Quality of reporting on quality of life.

    Results : During 1980-97 reporting on quality of life increased from 0.63% to 4.2% for trials from all disciplines, from 1.5% to 8.2% for cancer trials, and from 0.34% to 3.6% for cardiovascular trials. Of 364 abstracts, 65% reported on drug interventions. Of a sample of 67 full reports, authors of 48 (72%) used 62 established quality of life instruments. In 15 reports (22%) authors developed their own measures, and in 2 (3%) methods were unclear. Response rates were given in 38 (57%), and complete reporting on all items and scales occurred in 31 (46%)

    Conclusions : Less than 5% of all randomised controlled trials reported on quality of life, and this proportion was below 10% even for cancer trials. A plethora of instruments was used in different studies, and the reporting of methods and results was often inadequate. Standards for the measurement and reporting of quality of life in clinical trials research need to be developed.


    • Funding This work was partially funded by the University of Bristol

    • Competing interests None declared

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