Potential impact on estimated treatment effects of information lost to follow-up in randomised controlled trials (LOST-IT): systematic review.
To assess the reporting, extent, and handling of loss to follow-up and its potential impact on the estimates of the effect of treatment in randomised controlled trials. Systematic review. We calculated the percentage of trials for which the relative risk would no longer be significant under a number of assumptions about the outcomes of participants lost to follow-up. Medline search of five top general medical journals, 2005-07. ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials that reported a significant binary primary patient important outcome. Of the 235 eligible reports identified, 31 (13%) did not report whether or not loss to follow-up occurred. In reports that did give the relevant information, the median percentage of participants lost to follow-up was 6% (interquartile range 2-14%). The method by which loss to follow-up was handled was unclear in 37 studies (19%); the most commonly used method was survival analysis (66, 35%). When we varied assumptions about loss to follow-up, results of 19% of trials were no longer significant if we assumed no participants lost to follow-up had the event of interest, 17% if we assumed that all participants lost to follow-up had the event, and 58% if we assumed a worst case scenario (all participants lost to follow-up in the treatment group and none of those in the control group had the event). Under more plausible assumptions, in which the incidence of events in those lost to follow-up relative to those followed-up is higher in the intervention than control group, results of 0% to 33% trials were no longer significant. Plausible assumptions regarding outcomes of patients lost to follow-up could change the interpretation of results of randomised controlled trials published in top medical journals.