A number of organizations supply recommendations regarding the evaluation of quality of observational studies.
In the wake of a recently released study, many are questioning the consistency of these standards. This lack of consensus result in differing publications, research methods, and priorities in funding. Furthermore, it also leads to, perhaps most importantly, people using evidence differently in their decision making process. This issue is hyper relevant in a time where the industry is striving to improve quality and reduce costs.
The author of the paper, Sally C. Morton, PhD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Biostatistics at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School, notes how the quality of research in today’s age is in the eye of the beholder. She goes on to point out that the realization of “a common set of agreed-upon minimum standards and guidelines …. to promote consistency in study quality” should be a top priority for the industry.”
The study, “Standards and Guidelines for Observational Studies: Quality Is in the Eye of the Beholder” analyzed around ten sets of guidelines that are used by societies across Europe and North America. The authors found and examined the 23 methodological elements mentioned in these outlines. The different guidelines varied drastically with regards to the import and how actionable these elements were.
This can prove quite problematic for the industry as a lack of standardization makes it difficult for funders to know which proposals to back. Additionally, researchers themselves become unsure about which guidelines to follow and which of these elements are truly important. All this makes it difficult for health care providers to identify which research to point to during their decision making process.
The authors of the study went on to make four proposals to remedy this issue. First, they note that while research may vary across disciplines, the best practices in observational studies should remain consistent amongst everyone. They also advocate that stakeholders meet to discuss a new and agreed upon level of consensus. Minimum standards may represent the most effective form of this level of consensus as opposed to best practices.