A look at the potential association between PICOT framing of a research question and the quality of reporting of analgesia RCTs
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BACKGROUND: Methodologists have proposed the formation of a good research question to initiate the process of developing a research protocol that will guide the design, conduct and analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs), and help improve the quality of reporting such studies. Five constituents of a good research question based on the PICOT framing include: Population, Intervention, Comparator, Outcome, and Time-frame of outcome assessment. The aim of this study was to analyze if the presence a structured research question, in PICOT format, in RCTs used within a 2010 meta-analysis investigating the effectiveness of femoral nerve blocks after total knee arthroplasty, is independently associated with improved quality of reporting. METHODS: Twenty-three RCT reports were assessed for the quality of reporting and then examined for the presence of the five constituents of a structured research question based on PICOT framing. We created a PICOT score (predictor variable), with a possible score between 0 and 5; one point for every constituent that was included. Our outcome variable was a 14 point overall reporting quality score (OQRS) and a 3 point key methodological items score (KMIS) based on the proper reporting of allocation concealment, blinding and numbers analysed using the intention-to-treat principle. Both scores, OQRS and KMIS, are based on the Consolidated Standards for Reporting Trials (CONSORT) statement. A multivariable regression analysis was conducted to determine if PICOT score was independently associated with OQRS and KMIS. RESULTS: A completely structured PICOT score question was found in 2 of the 23 RCTs evaluated. Although not statistically significant, higher PICOT was associated with higher OQRS [IRR: 1.267; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.984, 1.630; p = 0.066] but not KMIS (1.061 (0.515, 2.188); 0.872). These results are comparable to those from a similar study in terms of the direction and range of IRRs estimates. The results need to be interpreted cautiously due to the small sample size. CONCLUSIONS: This study showed that PICOT framing of a research question in anesthesia-related RCTs is not often followed. Even though a statistically significant association with higher OQRS was not found, PICOT framing of a research question is still an important attribute within all RCTs.
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