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BACKGROUND:Randomised controlled clinical trials typically have a relatively brief in-trial follow-up period which can underestimate safety signals and fail to detect long-term hazards, which may take years to appear. Extended follow-up after the scheduled closure of the trial allows detection of both persistent or enhanced beneficial effects following cessation of study treatment (i.e. a legacy effect) and the emergence of possible adverse effects (e.g. development of cancer). METHODS:A systematic review was conducted following PRISMA guidelines to qualitatively compare post-trial follow-up methods used in large randomised controlled trials. Five bibliographic databases, including Medline and the Cochrane Library, and one trial registry were searched. All large randomised controlled trials (more than 1000 adult participants) published from March 2006 to April 2017 were evaluated. Two reviewers screened and extracted data attaining > 95% concordance of papers checked. Assessment of bias in the trials was evaluated using the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool. RESULTS:Fifty-seven thousand three hundred and fifty-two papers were identified and 65 trials which had post-trial follow-up (PTFU) were included in the analysis. The majority of trials used more than one type of follow-up. There was no evidence of an association between the retention rates of participants in the PTFU period and the type of follow-up used. Costs of PTFU varied widely with data linkage being the most economical. It was not possible to assess associations between risk of bias during the in-trial period and proportions lost to follow-up during the PTFU period. DISCUSSION:Data captured during the post-trial follow-up period can add scientific value to a trial. However, there are logistical and financial barriers to overcome. Where available, data linkage via electronic registries and records is a cost-effective method which can provide data on a range of endpoints. SYSTEMATIC REVIEW REGISTRATION:Not applicable for PROSPERO registration.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





298 - 298


MRC Population Health Research Unit, Clinical Trial Service Unit (CTSU), Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, Richard Doll Building, Roosevelt Drive, Oxford, OX3 7LF, UK.