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Open Access Correspondence

The demise of the randomised controlled trial: bibliometric study of the German-language health care literature, 1948 to 2004

Daniel Galandi*, Guido Schwarzer and Gerd Antes

Author Affiliations

German Cochrane Center, Department of Medical Biometry and Statistics, University Hospital Freiburg, Stefan-Meier-Str. 26, 79104 Freiburg, Germany

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2006, 6:30  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-6-30

Published: 6 July 2006

Abstract

Background

In order to reduce systematic errors (such as language bias) and increase the precision of the summary treatment effect estimate, a comprehensive identification of randomised controlled trials (RCT), irrespective of publication language, is crucial in systematic reviews and meta-analyses. We identified trials in the German general health care literature.

Methods

Eight German language general health care journals were searched for randomised controlled trials and analysed with respect to the number of published RCTs each year and the size of trials.

Results

A total of 1618 trials were identified with a median total number of 43 patients per trial. Between 1970 and 2004 a small but constant rise in sample size from a median number of 30 to 60 patients per trial can be observed. The number of published trials was very low between 1948 and 1970, but increased between 1970 and 1986 to a maximum of 11.2 RCTs per journal and year. In the following time period a striking decline of the number of RCTs was observed. Between 1999 and 2001 only 0.8 RCTs per journal and year were published, in the next three years, the number of published trials increased to 1.7 RCTs per journal and year.

Conclusion

German language general health care journals no longer have a role in the dissemination of trial results. The slight rise in the number of published RCTs in the last three years can be explained by a change of publication language from German to English of three of the analysed journals.