Criteria for methodological quality have been widely accepted in many fields of surgical practice. These criteria include those of Velanovich and Gill and Feinstein. No such analysis of the spine surgery literature has ever been reported. This study is a systematic review of the quality of life (QOL) publications to determine if the recent interest in QOL measurements following spinal surgery has been accompanied by an improvement in the quality of the papers published.
The archives of the journals Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, Spine, Journal of Spinal Disorders & Techniques, European Spine Journal, and The Spine Journal, for the years 2000–2004 inclusive, were examined, and all publications reporting QOL outcomes were analyzed. Each paper was scored according to the criteria of Velanovich and Gill and Feinstein, and the methodological quality of these manuscripts—and any time-dependent changes—were determined.
During the study period, the total number of articles published increased by 36%, while the number of QOL articles increased by 102%. According to the criteria of Velanovich, there was a statistically significant improvement in the quality of the publications over the study period (p = 0.0394). In 2000, only 27% of outcome measures were disease specific, 77% were valid, and 77% were appropriate for the study design. In 2004, 43% were disease specific, 88% were valid, and 89% were appropriate. In 2000, 53% of studies used appropriate statistical analysis compared with 100 and 96% for 2003 and 2004, respectively. There was no demonstrable improvement in the fulfillment of the more rigorous Gill and Feinstein criteria for any of the 5 journals over the period of the study.
The authors' study illustrates a moderate improvement in the quality of these publications over the study period but much methodological improvement is required.