The role of prospective randomized clinical trials in pediatric surgery: state of the art?

J Pediatr Surg. 2001 Aug;36(8):1182-6. doi: 10.1053/jpsu.2001.25749.


Purpose: This study sought to determine the role of randomized controlled trials (RCT) in the evolution of pediatric surgical practice.

Methods: The authors used a computer-assisted literature search to identify all clinical trials related to pediatric surgery published in the English-language literature from 1966 through 1999. Each article was reviewed in detail for purpose, content, conduct, and quality of the trial. The authors assessed quality with a previously validated instrument (Chalmers Qualitative Assessment).

Results: The authors identified 134 RCTs related to pediatric surgery over the past 33 years. This accounts for 0.17% of 80,377 articles published in the field. The areas of surgery studied were analgesia 65 (49%), antibiotics 17 (13%), extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) 9 (7%), gastrointestinal, burns, oncology, minimally invasive surgery, vascular access, congenital anomalies, and trauma (each <5%). Only 16 (12%) trials compared 2 surgical therapies, 9 (7%) compared a medical versus a surgical therapy, and 109 (81%) compared 2 medical therapies in surgical patients. Fourteen (10%) RCTs were funded by peer-reviewed agencies. Only 17 (13%) RCTs included a biostatistician as an author or a consultant. Trial design included calculation of sample size and statistical power in 21 (16%) RCTs. Method of randomization was reported in only 51 (38%). The test statistic and observed probability value was reported in 15 (11%).

Conclusions: Clinical trials are used infrequently to answer questions related to pediatric surgery. When RCTs are utilized, they often suffer from poor trial design, inadequate statistical analysis, and incomplete reporting. Pediatric surgery could benefit from increased expertise, funding, and participation in clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • California
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / standards
  • Humans
  • Pediatrics / methods*
  • Pediatrics / standards
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality Control
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / classification
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Research Design
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / methods*
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / standards