A systematic survey shows that reporting and handling of missing outcome data in networks of interventions is poor.
BACKGROUND:To provide empirical evidence about prevalence, reporting and handling of missing outcome data in systematic reviews with network meta-analysis and acknowledgement of their impact on the conclusions. METHODS:We conducted a systematic survey including all published systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials comparing at least three interventions from January 1, 2009 until March 31, 2017. RESULTS:We retrieved 387 systematic reviews with network meta-analysis. Description of missing outcome data was available in 63 reviews. Intention-to-treat analysis was the most prevalent method (71%), followed by missing outcome data investigated as secondary outcome (e.g., acceptability) (40%). Bias due to missing outcome data was evaluated in half the reviews with explicit judgments in 18 (10%) reviews. Only 88 reviews interpreted their results acknowledging the implications of missing outcome data and mostly using the network meta-analysis results on missing outcome data as secondary outcome. We were unable to judge the actual strategy applied to deal with missing outcome data in 65% of the reviews due to insufficient information. Six percent of network meta-analyses were re-analyzed in sensitivity analysis considering missing outcome data, while 4% explicitly justified the strategy for dealing with missing outcome data. CONCLUSIONS:The description and handling of missing outcome data as well as the acknowledgment of their implications for the conclusions from network meta-analysis are deemed underreported.