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      The challenges faced in the design, conduct and analysis of surgical randomised controlled trials

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      Trials

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          Abstract

          Randomised evaluations of surgical interventions are rare; some interventions have been widely adopted without rigorous evaluation. Unlike other medical areas, the randomised controlled trial (RCT) design has not become the default study design for the evaluation of surgical interventions. Surgical trials are difficult to successfully undertake and pose particular practical and methodological challenges. However, RCTs have played a role in the assessment of surgical innovations and there is scope and need for greater use. This article will consider the design, conduct and analysis of an RCT of a surgical intervention. The issues will be reviewed under three headings: the timing of the evaluation, defining the research question and trial design issues. Recommendations on the conduct of future surgical RCTs are made. Collaboration between research and surgical communities is needed to address the distinct issues raised by the assessment of surgical interventions and enable the conduct of appropriate and well-designed trials.

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          What influences recruitment to randomised controlled trials? A review of trials funded by two UK funding agencies

          Background A commonly reported problem with the conduct of multicentre randomised controlled trials (RCTs) is that recruitment is often slower or more difficult than expected, with many trials failing to reach their planned sample size within the timescale and funding originally envisaged. The aim of this study was to explore factors that may have been associated with good and poor recruitment in a cohort of multicentre trials funded by two public bodies: the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme. Methods The cohort of trials was identified from the administrative databases held by the two funding bodies. 114 trials that recruited participants between 1994 and 2002 met the inclusion criteria. The full scientific applications and subsequent trial reports submitted by the trial teams to the funders provided the principal data sources. Associations between trial characteristics and recruitment success were tested using the Chi-squared test, or Fisher's exact test where appropriate. Results Less than a third (31%) of the trials achieved their original recruitment target and half (53%) were awarded an extension. The proportion achieving targets did not appear to improve over time. The overall start to recruitment was delayed in 47 (41%) trials and early recruitment problems were identified in 77 (63%) trials. The inter-relationship between trial features and recruitment success was complex. A variety of strategies were employed to try to increase recruitment, but their success could not be assessed. Conclusion Recruitment problems are complex and challenging. Many of the trials in the cohort experienced recruitment difficulties. Trials often required extended recruitment periods (sometimes supported by additional funds). While this is of continuing concern, success in addressing the trial question may be more important than recruitment alone.
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            A controlled trial of arthroscopic surgery for osteoarthritis of the knee.

            Many patients report symptomatic relief after undergoing arthroscopy of the knee for osteoarthritis, but it is unclear how the procedure achieves this result. We conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to evaluate the efficacy of arthroscopy for osteoarthritis of the knee. A total of 180 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee were randomly assigned to receive arthroscopic débridement, arthroscopic lavage, or placebo surgery. Patients in the placebo group received skin incisions and underwent a simulated débridement without insertion of the arthroscope. Patients and assessors of outcome were blinded to the treatment-group assignment. Outcomes were assessed at multiple points over a 24-month period with the use of five self-reported scores--three on scales for pain and two on scales for function--and one objective test of walking and stair climbing. A total of 165 patients completed the trial. At no point did either of the intervention groups report less pain or better function than the placebo group. For example, mean (+/-SD) scores on the Knee-Specific Pain Scale (range, 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more severe pain) were similar in the placebo, lavage, and débridement groups: 48.9+/-21.9, 54.8+/-19.8, and 51.7+/-22.4, respectively, at one year (P=0.14 for the comparison between placebo and lavage; P=0.51 for the comparison between placebo and débridement) and 51.6+/-23.7, 53.7+/-23.7, and 51.4+/-23.2, respectively, at two years (P=0.64 and P=0.96, respectively). Furthermore, the 95 percent confidence intervals for the differences between the placebo group and the intervention groups exclude any clinically meaningful difference. In this controlled trial involving patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, the outcomes after arthroscopic lavage or arthroscopic débridement were no better than those after a placebo procedure.
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              Post-randomisation exclusions: the intention to treat principle and excluding patients from analysis.

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Trials
                Trials
                BioMed Central
                1745-6215
                2009
                6 February 2009
                : 10
                : 9
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Health Services Research Unit, University Of Aberdeen, Health Sciences Building, Foresterhill, Aberdeen, Scotland, AB25 2ZD, UK
                [2 ]Clinical Epidemiology Program, Ottawa Health Research Institute, 1053 Carling Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, K1Y 4E9, Canada
                Article
                1745-6215-10-9
                10.1186/1745-6215-10-9
                2654883
                19200379
                Copyright © 2009 Cook; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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                Medicine

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