Background: Cochrane reviews are regarded as being scientifically rigorous and are increasingly used by a variety of stakeholders. However, factors predicting the publication of Cochrane reviews have never been reported. This is important because if a higher proportion of Cochrane protocols with certain characteristics (e.g., funding) are being published, this may lead to inaccurate decisions. We examined the frequency of published and unpublished Cochrane reviews and protocol factors that predict the publication of Cochrane reviews.
Methodology/principal findings: Retrospective cohort study of Cochrane protocols published in 2000 (Issues 2 to 4) and 2001 (Issue 1). The publication status of these reviews was followed up to Issue 1, 2008 in The Cochrane Library. Survival analysis of the time from protocol publication to the first review publication and protocol factors predicting the time to publication was conducted. There were 411 new Cochrane protocols in the cohort. After excluding 39; 71/372 (19.1%) were unpublished and 301/372 (80.9%) were published as full Cochrane reviews at the time of study analysis (January 2008). The median time to publication was 2.4 years (range: 0.15 to 8.96). Multivariate analyses revealed that shorter time to publication was associated with the review subsequently being updated (hazard ratio, HR: 1.80 [95% confidence interval, CI: 1.39 to 2.33 years]) and longer time to publication was associated with the review having two published protocols, indicating changes to the review plan (HR: 0.33 [95% CI: 0.12 to 0.90 years]).
Conclusions/significance: Only about 80% Cochrane protocols were published as full reviews after over 8 years of follow-up. The median time to publication was 2.4 years and some reviews took much longer. Strategies to decrease time to publication should be considered, such as streamlining the review process, increased support for authors when protocol amendments occur, and better infrastructure for updating Cochrane reviews.