Objectives: Current policy and practice regarding identification of and extent of use of data from conference abstracts in health technology assessment reviews (TARs) are examined.
Methods: The methods used were (i) survey of TAR groups to identify general policy and experience related to use of abstract data, and (ii) audit of TARs commissioned by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and published between January 2000 and October 2004.
Results: Five of seven TAR groups reported a general policy that included searching for and including studies available as conference abstracts and presentations. A total of sixty-three published HTA reports for NICE were identified. Of these reports, thirty-eight identified at least one randomized controlled trial available as an abstract/presentation. Twenty-six (68 percent) of these thirty-eight TARs included studies available as abstracts.
Conclusions: There are variations in policy and practice across TAR groups regarding the searching for and inclusion of studies available as conference abstracts. There is a need for clarity and transparency for review teams regarding how abstract data are managed. If conference abstracts are to be included, reviewers need to allocate additional time for searching and managing data from these sources. Review teams should also be encouraged to state explicitly their search strategies for identifying conference abstracts, their methods for assessing these abstracts for inclusion and, where appropriate, how the data were used and their effect on the results.