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4.11: The ‘SPIRIT’ checklist for standard protocol items for clinical trials

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  • Nearly all intervention trials will need to have a protocol developed, which serves as the basis for trial planning, conduct, and reporting. Before a trial starts, it is recommended or, in many cases, required that the protocol is deposited in a trial register (see Chapter 7, Section 5). Until recently, there has not been specific guidance as to exactly what items should be included in such a protocol. However, such guidance has recently been published (Chan et al., 2013a; Chan et al., 2013b) as a component of the EQUATOR project (Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research) (<>). The publications include a 33-item checklist, the so-called SPIRIT (Standard Protocol Items: Recommendations for Intervention Trials) 2013 checklist, which is reproduced in Table 4.1. This gives a useful outline of how a trial protocol might be organized, bearing in mind the issues we have discussed in this chapter. Readers should refer to the SPIRIT website (<>) for the most recent version.

    Table 4.1 The SPIRIT 2013 checklist: recommended items to address in a clinical trial protocol and related documents*

    Section/item Item no. Description
    Title 1 Descriptive title identifying the study design, population, interventions, and, if applicable, trial acronym
    Trial registration 2a Trial identifier and registry name. If not yet registered, name of intended registry
    2b All items from the World Health Organization Trial Registration Data Set
    Protocol version 3 Date and version identifier
    Funding 4 Sources and types of financial, material, and other support
    Roles and responsibilities 5a Names, affiliations, and roles of protocol contributors
    5b Name and contact information for the trial sponsor
    5c Role of study sponsor and funders, if any, in study design; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of data; writing of the report; and the decision to submit the report for publication, including whether they will have ultimate authority over any of these activities
    5d Composition, roles, and responsibilities of the coordinating centre, steering committee, endpoint adjudication committee, data management team, and other individuals or groups overseeing the trial, if applicable (see item 21a for data monitoring committee)
    Background and rationale 6a Description of research question and justification for undertaking the trial, including summary of relevant studies (published and unpublished) examining benefits and harms for each intervention
    6b Explanation for choice of comparators
    Objectives 7 Specific objectives or hypotheses
    Trial design 8 Description of trial design, including type of trial (for example, parallel group, crossover, factorial, single group), allocation ratio, and framework (for example, superiority, equivalence, non-inferiority, exploratory)
    Study setting 9 Description of study settings (for example, community clinic, academic hospital) and list of countries where data will be collected. Reference to where list of study sites can be obtained
    Eligibility criteria 10 Inclusion and exclusion criteria for participants. If applicable, eligibility criteria for study centres and individuals who will perform the interventions (for example, surgeons, psychotherapists)
    Interventions 11a Interventions for each group with sufficient detail to allow replication, including how and when they will be administered
    11b Criteria for discontinuing or modifying allocated interventions for a given trial participant (for example, drug dose change in response to harms, participant request, or improving/worsening disease)
    11c Strategies to improve adherence to intervention protocols and any procedures for monitoring adherence (for example, drug tablet return, laboratory tests)
    11d Relevant concomitant care and interventions that are permitted or prohibited during the trial
    Outcomes 12 Primary, secondary, and other outcomes, including the specific measurement variable (for example, systolic blood pressure), analysis metric (for example, change from baseline, final value, time to event), method of aggregation (for example, median, proportion), and time point for each outcome. Explanation of the clinical relevance of chosen efficacy and harm outcomes is strongly recommended
    Participant timeline 13 Time schedule of enrolment, interventions (including any run-ins and washouts), assessments, and visits for participants. A schematic diagram is highly recommended (see figure at <>)
    Sample size 14 Estimated number of participants needed to achieve study objectives and how it was determined, including clinical and statistical assumptions supporting any sample size calculations
    Recruitment 15 Strategies for achieving adequate participant enrolment to reach target sample size
    Sequence generation 16a Method of generating the allocation sequence (for example, computer-generated random numbers) and list of any factors for stratification. To reduce predictability of a random sequence, details of any planned restriction (for example, blocking) should be provided in a separate document that is unavailable to those who enrol participants or assign interventions
    Allocation concealment mechanism 16b Mechanism of implementing the allocation sequence (for example, central telephone; sequentially numbered, opaque, sealed envelopes), describing any steps to conceal the sequence, until interventions are assigned
    Implementation 16c Who will generate the allocation sequence, who will enrol participants, and who will assign participants to interventions
    Blinding (masking) 17a Who will be blinded after assignment to interventions (for example, trial participants, care providers, outcome assessors, data analysts), and how
    17b If blinded, circumstances under which unblinding is permissible and procedure for revealing a participant’s allocated intervention during the trial
    Data collection methods 18a Plans for assessment and collection of outcome, baseline, and other trial data, including any related processes to promote data quality (for example, duplicate measurements, training of assessors) and a description of study instruments (for example, questionnaires, laboratory tests), along with their reliability and validity, if known. Reference to where data collection forms can be found, if not in the protocol
    18b Plans to promote participant retention and complete follow-up, including list of any outcome data to be collected for participants who discontinue or deviate from intervention protocols
    Data management 19 Plans for data entry, coding, security, and storage, including any related processes to promote data quality (for example, double data entry; range checks for data values). Reference to where details of data management procedures can be found, if not in the protocol
    Statistical methods 20a Statistical methods for analysing primary and secondary outcomes. Reference to where other details of the statistical analysis plan can be found, if not in the protocol
    20b Methods for any additional analyses (for example, subgroup and adjusted analyses)
    20c Definition of analysis population relating to protocol non-adherence (for example, as randomized analysis) and any statistical methods to handle missing data (for example, multiple imputation)
    Data monitoring 21a Composition of Data Monitoring Committee (DMC); summary of its role and reporting structure; statement of whether it is independent from the sponsor and competing interests; and reference to where further details about its charter can be found, if not in the protocol. Alternatively, an explanation of why a DMC is not needed
    21b Description of any interim analyses and stopping guidelines, including who will have access to these interim results and make the final decision to terminate the trial
    Harms 22 Plans for collecting, assessing, reporting, and managing solicited and spontaneously reported AEs and other unintended effects of trial interventions or trial conduct
    Auditing 23 Frequency and procedures for auditing trial conduct, if any, and whether the process will be independent from investigators and the sponsor
    Research ethics approval 24 Plans for seeking research ethics committee/institutional review board (REC/IRB) approval
    Protocol amendments 25 Plans for communicating important protocol modifications (for example, changes to eligibility criteria, outcomes, analyses) to relevant parties (for example, investigators, REC/IRBs, trial participants, trial registries, journals, regulators)
    Consent or assent 26a Who will obtain informed consent or assent from potential trial participants or authorized surrogates, and how (see item 32)
    26b Additional consent provisions for collection and use of participant data and biological specimens in ancillary studies, if applicable
    Confidentiality 27 How personal information about potential and enrolled participants will be collected, shared, and maintained, in order to protect confidentiality before, during, and after the trial
    Declaration of interests 28 Financial and other competing interests for principal investigators for the overall trial and each study site
    Access to data 29 Statement of who will have access to the final trial dataset and disclosure of contractual agreements that limit such access for investigators
    Ancillary and post-trial care 30 Provisions, if any, for ancillary and post-trial care, and for compensation to those who suffer harm from trial participation
    Dissemination policy 31a Plans for investigators and sponsor to communicate trial results to participants, health care professionals, the public, and other relevant groups (for example, via publication, reporting in results databases, or other data sharing arrangements), including any publication restrictions
    31b Authorship eligibility guidelines and any intended use of professional writers
    31c Plans, if any, for granting public access to the full protocol, participant level dataset, and statistical code
    Informed consent materials 32 Model consent form and other related documentation given to participants and authorized surrogates
    Biological specimens 33 Plans for collection, laboratory evaluation, and storage of biological specimens for genetic or molecular analysis in the current trial and for future use in ancillary studies, if applicable

    *Reproduced with permission of the SPIRIT group. It is strongly recommended that this checklist be read in conjunction with the SPIRIT 2013 Statement (Chan et al., 2013a), in order to fully understand the scope and context of the checklist. It is important to note that this is a minimum list of items, and certain trial protocols may warrant the inclusion of additional items. This table is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 4.0 International licence (CC-BY-NC), a copy of which is available at