11.5.6.2  Outcomes

The rows of a ‘Summary of findings’ table should include all desirable and undesirable outcomes (listed in order of importance) that are essential for decision-making, up to a maximum of seven outcomes. If there are an excessive number of outcomes in the review, authors will need to omit the less important outcomes. Details of scales and time frames should be provided. Authors should aim to decide which outcomes are important for the ‘Summary of findings’ table during protocol development and before they undertake the review. However, review authors should be alert to the possibility that the importance of an outcome (e.g. a serious adverse effect) may only become known after the protocol was written or the analysis was carried out, and should take appropriate actions to include these in the ‘Summary of findings’ table. Note that authors should list these outcomes in the table whether data are available or not. 

 

Serious adverse events should be included, but it might be possible to combine minor adverse events, and describe this in a footnote (note that it is not appropriate to add events together unless they are known to be independent). Multiple time points will be a particular problem. In general, to keep the table simple, only outcomes critical to decision making should be presented at multiple time points. The remainder should be presented at a common time point.

 

Continuous outcome measures can be shown in the ‘Summary of findings’ table; review authors should endeavour to make these interpretable to the target audience (see Chapter 12, Section 12.6). This requires that the units are clear and readily interpretable, for example, days of pain, or frequency of headache. However, many measurement instruments are not readily interpretable by non-specialist clinicians or patients, for example, points on a Beck Depression Inventory or quality of life score. For these, a more interpretable presentation might involve converting a continuous to a dichotomous outcome, such as > 50% improvement (see Chapter 12, Section 12.6).