Publication of Results of Registered Trials With Published Study Protocols, 2011-2022

Colby J. Vorland, Andrew W. Brown, Halil Kilicoglu, Xiangji Ying, Evan Mayo-Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


IMPORTANCE Publishing study protocols might reduce research waste because of unclear methods or incomplete reporting; on the other hand, there might be few additional benefits of publishing protocols for registered trials that are never completed or published. No study has investigated the proportion of published protocols associated with published results. OBJECTIVE To estimate the proportion of published trial protocols for which there are not associated published results. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS This cross-sectional study used stratified random sampling to identify registered clinical trials with protocols published between January 2011 and August 2022 and indexed in PubMed Central. Ongoing studies and those within 1 year of the primary completion date on were excluded. Published results were sought from August 2022 to March 2023 by searching, emailing authors, and using an automated tool, as well as through incidental discovery. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES The primary outcome was a weighted estimate of the proportion of registered trials with published protocols that also had published main results. The proportion of trials with unpublished results was estimated using a weighted mean. RESULTS From 1500 citations that were screened, 308 clinical trial protocols were included, and it was found that 87 trials had not published their main results. Most included trials were investigator-initiated evaluations of nonregulated products. When published, results appeared a mean (SD) of 3.4 (2.0) years after protocol publications. With the use of a weighted mean, an estimated 4754 (95% CI, 4296-5226) eligible clinical trial protocols were published and indexed in PubMed Central between 2011 and 2022. In the weighted analysis, 1708 of those protocols (36%; 95% CI, 31%-41%) were not associated with publication of main results. In a sensitivity analysis excluding protocols published after 2019, an estimated 25% (95% CI, 20%-30%) of 3670 (95% CI, 3310-4032) protocol publications were not associated with publication of main results. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE This cross-sectional study of clinical trial protocols published on PubMed Central between 2011 and 2022 suggests that many protocols were not associated with subsequent publication of results. The overall benefits of publishing study protocols might outweigh the research waste caused by unnecessary protocol publications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2350688
JournalJAMA network open
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine

Cite this