eAppendix 1. Articles included in the analysis that used national Medicare datasets and were published in 6 general medical journals between 2017 and 2018.
eAppendix 2. Email template.
eAppendix 3. Survey.
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DeBlanc J, Kay B, Lehrich J, et al. Availability of Statistical Code From Studies Using Medicare Data in General Medical Journals. JAMA Intern Med. 2020;180(6):905–907. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.0671
Limited access to statistical code (ie, computer programming instructions used to perform analyses from research data) following publication of an article may be a barrier to open science, methodologic rigor, and the reproducibility of research.1,2 Unlike clinical research data that may raise privacy concerns, sharing statistical code should be straightforward.3 We assessed the availability of statistical code from research articles published in leading general medical journals, focusing on studies using Medicare data.4
We searched for all studies that cited use of national Medicare data sets (Part A and/or B) published in 6 general medical journals between January 2017 and December 2018 (eAppendix 1 in the Supplement). We sent an email outlining our project to the corresponding authors of identified articles (eAppendix 2 in the Supplement) up to 3 times over 6 weeks at 2-week intervals. We requested statistical code; when code was available, one of us (J.L.) assessed if it was complete or partial, consulting with a second author (B.K.N.) when needed. We defined code as complete if it could fully reproduce the study from cohort construction to final results. We also asked the corresponding authors to complete an anonymous survey (eAppendix 3 in the Supplement). The University of Michigan Institutional Review Board exempted the study from human subjects review and waived consent.
We identified 51 articles with 41 unique corresponding authors (Figure). One article reported no use of statistical code. From the remaining 50 articles, we were able to obtain code from 10; for 3, statistical code was publicly available online, and for 7, the corresponding authors provided it (Table). For the 8 articles that stated in the publication that code was available on request, code was only provided for 3. Of the 41 corresponding authors contacted, 22 did not respond; of the 19 who responded, 16 completed the survey. Primary concerns included code was not clean enough to share (n = 2), uncertainty as to how code would be used (n = 3), and time and effort involved in sharing code (n = 3). When asked if they would support an online public repository of code, 12 of 16 authors who completed the survey indicated support.
Our study found limited availability of statistical code for research articles using Medicare data in general medical journals. Several explanations are possible. Our request may have been perceived as vague or not serious, leading some corresponding authors to be deterred because of the effort required to prepare statistical code for distribution. Others may have been hesitant to share code because of concerns about the intent of our study or to protect intellectual property. In another case (that involved multiple articles), a corresponding author reported possible barriers owing to requirements for sponsor permission. Finally, some email accounts may have become inactive or blocked, leading to some nonresponses. As our aim was to evaluate the effectiveness of a simple approach for accessing statistical code, we did not contact coauthors when we received no response from the corresponding author, nor did we use informal contact channels.
The limitations of our study notwithstanding, these findings indicate that the restricted availability of statistical code after publication of research articles using Medicare data can be a barrier to the reproducibility of research. Our findings also suggest that the traditional custom of contacting corresponding authors after publication may be insufficient for obtaining statistical code. One solution would be that medical journals encourage or require submission of statistical code before an article is published. This approach would be similar to that in other fields, such as in the basic sciences5 or economics (eg, where statistical code for Medicare studies is posted on the American Economic Association website6). Journals could also build on data sharing policies for clinical trials endorsed by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, under which authors are required to state in the article whether individual data will be shared, what will be shared, and by what access criteria, including the mechanism.
Accepted for Publication: February 14, 2020.
Corresponding Author: Brahmajee K. Nallamothu, MD, MPH, Michigan Integrated Center for Health Analytics and Medical Prediction, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, 2800 Plymouth Rd, Building 16, Room 132W, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2800 (email@example.com).
Published Online: April 13, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.0671
Author Contributions: Ms DeBlanc and Dr Nallamothu had full access to all of the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Study concept and design: DeBlanc, Kay, Lehrich, Nallamothu.
Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: All authors.
Drafting of the manuscript: DeBlanc, Kay, Lehrich.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: All authors.
Statistical analysis: Lehrich, Kamdar.
Administrative, technical, or material support: DeBlanc, Kay, Lehrich, Nallamothu.
Study supervision: DeBlanc, Kay, Nallamothu.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Kamdar has received personal fees for consulting from Stanford University and Lucent Surgical as well as nonfinancial support from Western University of the Health Sciences. Dr Valley has received grants from the National Institutes of Health. Dr Ayanian has received personal fees from the JAMA Network for serving as an Editor for JAMA Health Forum and from the New England Journal of Medicine for serving as a member of the Perspective Advisory Board. Dr Nallamothu has received personal fees from the American Heart Association for serving as the Editor of AHA Journals and for serving as Editor-in-Chief of Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality & Outcomes; holds ownership shares in AngioInsight Inc; is a principal investigator or coinvestigator on research grants from the National Institutes of Health, US Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Service, the American Heart Association, Apple, and Toyota; and is a coinventor on US Utility Patent No. US15/356,012 (US20170148158A1), which is held by the University of Michigan and licensed to AngioInsight Inc. No other disclosures were reported.
Additional Contributions: We appreciate the help of Bradley Trumpower, MS (Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor), with survey formatting and deployment. He was not compensated for his work.
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