Quality and content of abstracts in papers reporting about drug exposures during pregnancy
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BACKGROUND: Most clinicians read only the abstract of papers in scientific journals. Therefore, it is very important that abstracts contain as much information as possible, to summarize the data succinctly. Our objectives were to evaluate the quality of information in abstracts reporting human fetal outcomes following drug exposure during pregnancy. METHODS: We developed quality criteria based on previous work, modifying them for use with pregnancy outcomes. Quality scores were calculated as present/absent for all of the equally weighted criteria, then expressed as percentages (present/[present + absent]). We examined a random sample of 100 abstracts obtained through searches of MEDLINE, EMBASE, and the Web of Science databases from 1990 to 2005. Average quality scores were compared across designs (cohort, case-control, meta-analysis, and mixed design) Using Kruskal-Wallis ANOVA and structured/unstructured formats using Student's t test. RESULTS: The overall average quality was 59.2% +/- 14% (median, 61.5%; range, 15.4-83.3%). Quality was not significantly different across designs (P = .16) or between structured and unstructured abstracts (P = .44). Quality scores increased over time (Rho = 0.23, P = .02). Most frequently absent were baseline risk (94%), drug dose (91%), nonsignificant P values (72%), confounders (69%), significant P values (57%), and risk difference (48%). CONCLUSIONS: Abstracts provide insufficient information, particularly baseline risk values, for readers to make evidence-based decisions regarding drug use during pregnancy. Efforts need to be made to improve the quality of abstracts and include critical information such as baseline risk.
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