Second thoughts on the final rule: An analysis of baseline participant characteristics reports on ClinicalTrials.gov
Background: ClinicalTrials.gov is valuable for aggregate-level analysis of trials. The recently published final rule aims to improve reporting of trial results. We aimed to assess variability in ClinicalTirals.gov records reporting participants’ baseline measures. Methods and findings: The September 2015 edition of the database for Aggregate Analysis of ClinicalTrials.gov (AACT), was used in this study. To date, AACT contains 186,941 trials of which 16,660 trials reporting baseline (participant) measures were analyzed. We also analyzed a subset of 13,818 Highly Likely Applicable Clinical Trials (HLACT), for which reporting of results is likely mandatory and compared a random sample of 30 trial records to their journal articles. We report counts for each mandatory baseline measure and variability reporting in their formats. The AACT dataset contains 8,161 baseline measures with 1206 unique measurement units. However, of these 6,940 (85%) variables appear only once in the dataset. Age and Gender are reported using many different formats (178 and 49 respectively). “Age” as the variable name is reported in 60 different formats. HLACT subset reports measures using 3,931 variables. The most frequent Age format (i.e. mean (years) ± sd) is found in only 45% of trials. Overall only 4 baseline measures (Region of Enrollment, Age, Number of Participants, and Gender) are reported by > 10% of trials. Discrepancies are found in both the types and formats of ClinicalTrials.gov records and their corresponding journal articles. On average, journal articles include twice the number of baseline measures (13.6±7.1 (sd) vs. 6.6±7.6) when compared to the ClinicalTrials.gov records that report any results. Conclusions: We found marked variability in baseline measures reporting. This is not addressed by the final rule. To support secondary use of ClinicalTrials.gov, a uniform format for baseline measures reporting is warranted.