Background: Authors are required to describe in their manuscripts ethical approval from an appropriate committee and how consent was obtained from participants when research involves human participants.
Objective: To assess the reporting of these protections for several study designs in general medical journals.
Design: A consecutive series of research papers published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, BMJ, JAMA, Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine between February and May 2003 were reviewed for the reporting of ethical approval and patient consent. Ethical approval, name of approving committee, type of consent, data source and whether the study used data collected as part of a study reported elsewhere were recorded. Differences in failure to report approval and consent by study design, journal and vulnerable study population were evaluated using multivariable logistic regression.
Results: Ethical approval and consent were not mentioned in 31% and 47% of manuscripts, respectively. 88 (27%) papers failed to report both approval and consent. Failure to mention ethical approval or consent was significantly more likely in all study designs (except case–control and qualitative studies) than in randomised controlled trials (RCTs). Failure to mention approval was most common in the BMJ and was significantly more likely than in The New England Journal of Medicine. Failure to mention consent was most common in the BMJ and was significantly more likely than in all other journals. No significant differences in approval or consent were found when comparing studies of vulnerable and non-vulnerable participants.
Conclusion: The reporting of ethical approval and consent in RCTs has improved, but journals are less good at reporting this information for other study designs. Journals should publish this information for all research on human participants.
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Funding: This study was funded by the BMJ Publishing Group’s research budget.
Competing interests: SS works as a researcher for the BMJ Publishing Group. AG was on a student placement at the BMJ Publishing Group while conducting this research.
Contributors: SS designed the study. RP was the primary data extractor, assisted by AG to confirm the validity of the data extraction. SS and RP managed the data and AH carried out statistical analysis. All authors helped in writing the paper.
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