Background: Several meta-research studies and benchmarking activities have assessed how comprehensively and timely, academic institutions and private companies publish their clinical studies. These current "clinical trial tracking" activities differ substantially in how they sample relevant studies, and how they follow up on their publication. Methods: To allow informed policy and decision making on future publication assessment and benchmarking of institutions and companies, this paper outlines and discusses 10 variables that influence the tracking of timely publications. Tracking variables were initially selected by experts and by the authors through discussion. To validate the completeness of our set of variables, we conducted i) an explorative review of tracking studies and ii) an explorative tracking of registered clinical trials of three leading German university medical centres. Results: We identified the following 10 relevant variables impacting the tracking of clinical studies: 1) responsibility for clinical studies, 2) type and characteristics of clinical studies, 3) status of clinical studies, 4) source for sampling, 5) timing of registration, 6) determination of completion date, 7) timeliness of dissemination, 8) format of dissemination, 9) source for tracking, and 10) inter-rater reliability. Based on the description of these tracking variables and their influence, we discuss which variables could serve in what ways as a standard assessment of "timely publication". Conclusions: To facilitate the tracking and consequent benchmarking of how often and how timely academic institutions and private companies publish clinical study results, we have two core recommendations. First, the improvement in the link between registration and publication, for example via institutional policies for academic institutions and private companies. Second, the comprehensive and transparent reporting of tracking studies according to the 10 variables presented in this paper.
Keywords: clinical studies; follow-up; private companies; registries; trial tracking; trials; university medical centers.