Examination of the analytic quality of behavioral health randomized clinical trials



Adoption of evidence-based practice (EBP) policy has implications for clinicians and researchers alike. In fields that have already adopted EBP, evidence-based practice guidelines derive from systematic reviews of research evidence. Ultimately, such guidelines serve as tools used by practitioners. Systematic reviews of treatment efficacy and effectiveness reserve their strongest endorsements for treatments that are supported by high-quality randomized clinical trials (RCTs). It is unknown how well RCTs reported in behavioral science journals fare compared to quality standards set forth in fields that pioneered the evidence-based movement. We compared analytic quality features of all behavioral health RCTs (n = 73) published in three leading behavioral journals and two leading medical journals between January 2000 and July 2003. A behavioral health trial was operationalized as one employing a behavioral treatment modality to prevent or treat an acute or chronic physical disease or condition. Findings revealed areas of weakness in analytic aspects of the behavioral health RCTs reported in both sets of journals. Weaknesses were more pronounced in behavioral journals. The authors offer recommendations for improving the analytic quality of behavioral health RCTs to ensure that evidence about behavioral treatments is highly weighted in systematic reviews. © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Clin Psychol 63: 53–71, 2007.