Objective: To pilot a single-patient trials (SPTs) service in general practice, designed to improve decision-making about long-term medications for chronic conditions.
Design: 12-week within-patient, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover comparison of ibuprofen with paracetamol for osteoarthritis, involving three pairs of two-week treatment periods for each participating patient.
Setting and patients: Patients attending an academic general practice with a clinical diagnosis of osteoarthritis, with pain of at least a month's duration severe enough to warrant consideration of long-term non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) use.
Main outcome measures: Pain and stiffness; measures of overall arthritis compared with previous fortnight; preference for NSAID at the end of each two-week treatment period; use of escape analgesia; side effects; and management changes as a result of the SPTs.
Results: Eight of 14 patients completed SPTs. One was a clear responder to NSAIDs, five were non-responders, and two were indefinite. Of the five who were using NSAIDs' before the SPT, two continued and three ceased using them. Clinically useful information assisted decision-making for all eight participants. Medication management changed for six.
Conclusions: Single-patient trials can be successfully implemented in general practice and might be a valuable method for GPs to identify patients who respond to medication for chronic stable conditions such as osteoarthritis, in which individual response to medication is variable.