Evidence-Based Spine-Care Journal 2014; 05(02): 166
DOI: 10.1055/s-0034-1394106
Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart · New York

Definition of Levels of Evidence (LoE) and Overall Strength of Evidence (SoE)

Further Information

Publication History

Publication Date:
24 September 2014 (online)

Definition of the Different Levels of Evidence (LoE)

Articles on treatment

Studies of therapy

Level

Risk of bias

Study design

Criteria

I

Low risk

Study adheres to commonly held tenets of high quality design, execution and avoidance of bias

Good quality RCT

• Random sequence generation

• Allocation concealment

• Intent-to-treat analysis

• Blind or independent assessment for important outcomes

• Co-interventions applied equally

• F/U rate of 80%+

• Adequate sample size

II

Moderately low risk

Study has potential for some bias; study does not meet all criteria for level I, but deficiencies not likely to invalidate results or introduce significant bias

Moderate or poor quality RCT

Good quality cohort

• Violation of one of the criteria for good quality RCT

• Blind or independent assessment in a prospective study, or use of reliable data[a] in a retrospective study

• Co-interventions applied equally

• F/U rate of 80%+

• Adequate sample size

• Controlling for possible confounding[b]

III

Moderately high risk

Study has significant flaws in design and/or execution that increase potential for bias that may invalidate study results

Moderate or poor quality cohort

Case-control

• Violation of any of the criteria for good quality cohort

• Any case-control design

IV

High risk

Study has significant potential for bias; lack of comparison group precludes direct assessment of important outcomes

Case series

• Any case series design

a Outcome assessment is independent of healthcare personnel judgment. Reliable data are data such as mortality or re-operation.


b Authors must provide a description of robust baseline characteristics, and control for those that are unequally distributed between treatment groups.


Articles on prognosis or risk

Studies of prognosis

Level

Risk of bias

Study design

Criteria

I

Low risk

Study adheres to commonly held tenets of high quality design, execution and avoidance of bias

Good quality cohort[a]

• Prospective design

• Patients at similar point in the course of their disease or treatment

• F/U rate of ≥ 80%[b]

• Patients followed long enough for outcomes to occur

• Accounting for other prognostic factors[c]

II

Moderately low risk

Study has potential for some bias; does not meet all criteria for level I but deficiencies not likely to invalidate results or introduce significant bias

Moderate quality cohort

• Prospective design, with violation of one of the other criteria for good quality cohort study

• Retrospective design, meeting all the rest of the criteria in level I

III

Moderately high risk

Study has flaws in design and/or execution that increase potential for bias that may invalidate study results

Poor quality cohort

Good quality case-control or cross-sectional study

• Prospective design with violation of 2 or more criteria for good quality cohort, or

• Retrospective design with violation of 1 or more criteria for good quality cohort

• A good case-control study[d]

• A good cross-sectional study[e]

IV

High risk

Study has significant potential for bias; does not include design features geared toward minimizing bias and/or does not have a comparison group

Poor quality case-control or cross-sectional

Case series[d]

• Other than a good case-control study

• Other than a good cross-sectional study

• Any case series[f] design

a Cohort studies follow individuals with the exposure of interest over time and monitor for occurrence of the outcome of interest.


b Applies to cohort studies only.


c Authors must consider other factors that might influence patient outcomes and should control for them if appropriate.


d A good case-control study must have the all of the following: all incident cases from the defined population over a specified time period, controls that represent the population from which the cases come, exposure that precedes an outcome of interest, and accounting for other prognostic factors.


e A good cross-sectional study must have all of the following: a representative sample of the population of interest, an exposure that precedes an outcome of interest (e.g., sex, genetic factor), an accounting for other prognostic factors, and for surveys, at least a 80% return rate.


f A case-series design for prognosis is one where all the patients in the study have the exposure of interest. Since all the patients have the exposure, risks of an outcome can be calculated only for those with the exposure, but cannot be compared with those who do not have the exposure. For example, a case-series evaluating the effect of smoking on spine fusion that only recruits patients who smoke can simply provide the risk of patients who smoke that result in pseudarthrosis but cannot compare this risk to those that do not smoke.