Background: In clinical trials the selection of appropriate outcomes is crucial to the assessment of whether one intervention is better than another. Selection of inappropriate outcomes can compromise the utility of a trial. However, the process of selecting the most suitable outcomes to include can be complex. Our aim was to systematically review studies that address the process of selecting outcomes or outcome domains to measure in clinical trials in children.
Methods and findings: We searched Cochrane databases (no date restrictions) in December 2006; and MEDLINE (1950 to 2006), CINAHL (1982 to 2006), and SCOPUS (1966 to 2006) in January 2007 for studies of the selection of outcomes for use in clinical trials in children. We also asked a group of experts in paediatric clinical research to refer us to any other relevant studies. From these articles we extracted data on the clinical condition of interest, description of the method used to select outcomes, the people involved in the selection process, the outcomes selected, and limitations of the method as defined by the authors. The literature search identified 8,889 potentially relevant abstracts. Of these, 70 were retrieved, and 25 were included in the review. These studies described the work of 13 collaborations representing various paediatric specialties including critical care, gastroenterology, haematology, psychiatry, neurology, respiratory paediatrics, rheumatology, neonatal medicine, and dentistry. Two groups utilised the Delphi technique, one used the nominal group technique, and one used both methods to reach a consensus about which outcomes should be measured in clinical trials. Other groups used semistructured discussion, and one group used a questionnaire-based survey. The collaborations involved clinical experts, research experts, and industry representatives. Three groups involved parents of children affected by the particular condition.
Conclusions: Very few studies address the appropriate choice of outcomes for clinical research with children, and in most paediatric specialties no research has been undertaken. Among the studies we did assess, very few involved parents or children in selecting outcomes that should be measured, and none directly involved children. Research should be undertaken to identify the best way to involve parents and children in assessing which outcomes should be measured in clinical trials.