A new research has suggested that studies about medications published in the most influential medical journals are frequently designed in a way that yields misleading or confusing results.
Investigators from the medical schools at UCLA and Harvard analysed all the randomised medication trials published in the six highest-impact general medicine journals between June 1, 2008, and September 30, 2010, to determine the prevalence of three types of outcome measures that make data interpretation difficult.
In addition, they reviewed each study’s abstract to determine the percentage that reported results using relative rather than absolute numbers, which can also be a misleading.
The six journals examined by the investigators— the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, the Annals of Internal Medicine, the British Medical Journal and the Archives of Internal Medicine.
The new study also shows that 44 percent of study abstracts reported study results exclusively in relative — rather than absolute — numbers, which can be misleading.
“The way in which study results are presented is critical,” said Dr. Danny McCormick, the study’s senior author and a physician at the Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School, added.
“It’s one thing to say a medication lowers your risk of heart attacks from two-in-a-million to one-in-a-million, and something completely different to say a medication lowers your risk of heart attacks by 50 percent,” he said.
“Both ways of presenting the data are technically correct, but the second way, using relative numbers, could be misleading,” McCormick added.
The findings have been detailed online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.