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Randomized controlled trials – a matter of design

Authors Spieth PM, Kubasch AS, Penzlin AI, Illigens BM, Barlinn K, Siepmann T

Received 6 December 2015

Accepted for publication 18 March 2016

Published 10 June 2016 Volume 2016:12 Pages 1341—1349

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S101938

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Lucy Goodman

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Roger Pinder


Peter Markus Spieth,1,2 Anne Sophie Kubasch,3 Ana Isabel Penzlin,4 Ben Min-Woo Illigens,2,5 Kristian Barlinn,6 Timo Siepmann2,6,7

1Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus, Technische Universität Dresden, 2Center for Clinical Research and Management Education, Division of Health Care Sciences, Dresden International University, 3Pediatric Rheumatology and Immunology, Children’s Hospital, University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus, Technische Universität Dresden, 4Institute of Clinical Pharmacology, University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus, Technische Universität Dresden, Dresden, Saxony, Germany; 5Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA; 6Department of Neurology, University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus, Technische Universität Dresden, Dresden, Saxony, Germany; 7Radcliffe Department of Medicine, John Radcliffe Hospital, University of Oxford, Oxford, Oxfordshire, UK

Abstract: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are the hallmark of evidence-based medicine and form the basis for translating research data into clinical practice. This review summarizes commonly applied designs and quality indicators of RCTs to provide guidance in interpreting and critically evaluating clinical research data. It further reflects on the principle of equipoise and its practical applicability to clinical science with an emphasis on critical care and neurological research. We performed a review of educational material, review articles, methodological studies, and published clinical trials using the databases MEDLINE, PubMed, and ClinicalTrials.gov. The most relevant recommendations regarding design, conduction, and reporting of RCTs may include the following: 1) clinically relevant end points should be defined a priori, and an unbiased analysis and report of the study results should be warranted, 2) both significant and nonsignificant results should be objectively reported and published, 3) structured study design and performance as indicated in the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials statement should be employed as well as registration in a public trial database, 4) potential conflicts of interest and funding sources should be disclaimed in study report or publication, and 5) in the comparison of experimental treatment with standard care, preplanned interim analyses during an ongoing RCT can aid in maintaining clinical equipoise by assessing benefit, harm, or futility, thus allowing decision on continuation or termination of the trial.

Keywords: randomized clinical trials, RCT, validity, study design, CONSORT

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