Design, analysis, and reporting of crossover trials for inclusion in a meta-analysis

Tianjing Li, Tsung Yu, Barbara S. Hawkins, Kay Dickersin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Randomized crossover trials are clinical experiments in which participants are assigned randomly to a sequence of treatments and each participant serves as his/her own control in estimating treatment effect. We need a better understanding of the validity of their results to enable recommendations as to which crossover trials can be included in meta-analysis and for development of reporting guidelines. Objective To evaluate the characteristics of the design, analysis, and reporting of crossover trials for inclusion in a meta-analysis of treatment for primary open-angle glaucoma and to provide empirical evidence to inform the development of tools to assess the validity of the results from crossover trials and reporting guidelines. Methods We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Cochrane's CENTRAL register for randomized crossover trials for a systematic review and network meta-analysis we are conducting. Two individuals independently screened the search results for eligibility and abstracted data from each included report. Results We identified 83 crossover trials eligible for inclusion. Issues affecting the risk of bias in crossover trials, such as carryover, period effects and missing data, were often ignored. Some trials failed to accommodate the within-individual differences in the analysis. For a large proportion of the trials, the authors tabulated the results as if they arose from a parallel design. Precision estimates properly accounting for the paired nature of the design were often unavailable from the study reports; consequently, to include trial findings in a metaanalysis would require further manipulation and assumptions. Conclusions The high proportion of poorly reported analyses and results has the potential to affect whether crossover data should or can be included in a meta-analysis. There is pressing need for reporting guidelines for crossover trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0133023
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 18 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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