Diabetes–related lower limb amputations are associated with considerable morbidity and mortality and are usually preceded by foot ulceration. The available systematic reviews of aggregate data are compromised because the primary studies report both adjusted and unadjusted estimates. As adjusted meta-analyses of aggregate data can be challenging, the best way to standardise the analytical approach is to conduct a meta-analysis based on individual patient data (IPD).
There are however many challenges and fundamental methodological omissions are common; protocols are rare and the assessment of the risk of bias arising from the conduct of individual studies is frequently not performed, largely because of the absence of widely agreed criteria for assessing the risk of bias in this type of review. In this protocol we propose key methodological approaches to underpin our IPD systematic review of prognostic factors of foot ulceration in diabetes.
1. What are the most highly prognostic factors for foot ulceration (i.e. symptoms, signs, diagnostic tests) in people with diabetes?
2. Can the data from each study be adjusted for a consistent set of adjustment factors?
3. Does the model accuracy change when patient populations are stratified according to demographic and/or clinical characteristics?
MEDLINE and EMBASE databases from their inception until early 2012 were searched and the corresponding authors of all eligible primary studies invited to contribute their raw data. We developed relevant quality assurance items likely to identify occasions when study validity may have been compromised from several sources. A confidentiality agreement, arrangements for communication and reporting as well as ethical and governance considerations are explained.
We have agreement from the corresponding authors of all studies which meet the eligibility criteria and they collectively possess data from more than 17000 patients. We propose, as a provisional analysis plan, to use a multi-level mixed model, using “study” as one of the levels. Such a model can also allow for the within-patient clustering that occurs if a patient contributes data from both feet, although to aid interpretation, we prefer to use patients rather than feet as the unit of analysis. We intend to only attempt this analysis if the results of the investigation of heterogeneity do not rule it out and the model diagnostics are acceptable.
This review is central to the development of a global evidence-based strategy for the risk assessment of the foot in patients with diabetes, ensuring future recommendations are valid and can reliably inform international clinical guidelines.