The reporting quality of abstracts of stepped wedge randomized trials is suboptimal: A systematic survey of the literature
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Background: The stepped wedge trial (SWT) design is a type of the randomized clinical trial (RCT) design in which clusters or individuals are randomly and sequentially crossed over from control to intervention over a number of time periods. Trials using SWT design have become increasingly popular in medical, behavioral and social sciences research. Therefore, complete and transparent reporting of these studies is crucial. In particular, the quality of the abstracts of their reports is important because these may be the only accessible sources for their results. Objective: The aims of this survey were to evaluate the reporting quality of SWT abstracts and to identify factors contributing to better reporting quality. Methods: We performed literature searches to identify relevant articles in English published from November 1987 to October 2016 in the following electronic databases: Medline, Embase, Web of Science, CINAHL, and PsycINFO. At least two reviewers examined the quality of abstract reporting using the 17-item CONSORT (CONsolidated Standards Of Reporting Trials) Extension for Abstracts tool. Poisson regression models for incidence rate ratio (IRR) were used to identify factors associated with reporting quality (e.g., CONSORT endorsement, the number of authors, abstract format). Results: A total of 92 eligible articles were identified. Only 6 from the 17 items were reported in more than 80% of the articles (e.g., the statement of conclusions, contact details for the corresponding author). In the multivariable analysis, the year of publication since 2008 (IRR: 1.16; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.02, 1.33), journal endorsement of the CONSORT Statement (IRR: 1.15; 95% CI: 1.01, 1.31), and multiple authorship (IRR 1.13, 95% CI: 1.01, 1.27) were significantly associated with better reporting quality. Conclusion: The quality of reporting of SWT abstracts was suboptimal, although there have been some significant improvements since 2008. Endorsement of the CONSORT Statement by journals is an essential element of improvement strategies. Also, multiple authorship is significantly associated with better quality of abstract reporting.