Heterogeneity in outcome selection, definition and measurement in studies assessing the treatment of cryptoglandular anal fistula: findings from a systematic review

A. J. H. M. Machielsen, N. Iqbal*, M. L. Kimman, K. Sahnan, S. O. Adegbola, G. Kane, R. Woodcock, J. Kleijnen, U. Grossi, S. O. Breukink, P. J. Tozer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Background Treatment for cryptoglandular anal fistula (AF) is challenging and a lack of uniform outcomes in the literature prevents direct comparison of treatments. This can be addressed by developing a core outcome set, a standardised set of outcomes reported in all interventional studies for a specific condition. The aim of this systematic review is to assess the range of outcomes, their definitions, and the measurement instruments currently utilised in interventional studies for adult patients with AF. This will inform the development of an AF core outcome set. Methods Medline, Embase and The Cochrane Library were searched to identify all patient- and clinician-reported outcomes in studies assessing medical, surgical or combination treatment of adult patients with AF published from January 2008 to May 2020. The resulting outcomes were categorized according to the Core Outcome Measurement in Effectiveness Trials (COMET) taxonomy to better understand their distribution. Results In total, 155 studies were included, 552 outcomes were extracted, with a median of three outcomes (interquartile range 2-5) per study. Only 25% of studies demonstrated high-quality outcome reporting. The outcomes were merged into 52 unique outcomes and structured into four core areas and 14 domains, with the majority in the domain of physiological or clinical (gastrointestinal) outcomes. The most commonly reported outcomes were healing (77%), incontinence (63%), and recurrence (40%), with no single outcome assessed across all studies. There was a wide variation in outcome definitions and measurement instruments used. Conclusions There is substantial heterogeneity in outcomes, definitions, and measurement instruments reported in interventional studies for cryptoglandular anal fistula. This emphasises the need for standardised outcome reporting and measurement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)761-830
Number of pages70
JournalTechniques in coloproctology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • Cryptoglandular anal fistula
  • Systematic review
  • Outcome assessment
  • Core outcome set

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