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J R Soc Med. 1997 December; 90(12): 652–656.
PMCID: PMC1296732

Are randomized controlled trials controlled? Patient preferences and unblind trials.


The most reliable information about treatment effects comes from randomized controlled trials (RCTs). However, the possibility of subtle interactions--for example, between treatment preferences and treatment effects--is generally subordinated in the quest for evidence about main treatment effects. If patient preferences can influence the effectiveness of treatments through poorly understood (psychological) pathways, then RCTs, particularly when unblinded, may wrongly attribute effects solely to a treatment's physiological/pharmacological properties. To interpret the RCT evidence base it is important to know whether any preference effects exist and, if so, by how much they affect outcome. Reliable measurement of these effects is difficult and will require new approaches to the conduct of trials. In view of the fanciful image with which such effects are portrayed and the uncertainties about their true nature and biological mechanisms, existing evidence is unlikely to provide sufficient justification for investment in trials. This is a Catch 22. Until an escape is found we might never know, even approximately, how much of modern medicine is attributable to psychological processes.

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Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
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