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, 359 (9307), 696-700

Blinding in Randomised Trials: Hiding Who Got What

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Blinding in Randomised Trials: Hiding Who Got What

Kenneth F Schulz et al. Lancet.

Abstract

Blinding embodies a rich history spanning over two centuries. Most researchers worldwide understand blinding terminology, but confusion lurks beyond a general comprehension. Terms such as single blind, double blind, and triple blind mean different things to different people. Moreover, many medical researchers confuse blinding with allocation concealment. Such confusion indicates misunderstandings of both. The term blinding refers to keeping trial participants, investigators (usually health-care providers), or assessors (those collecting outcome data) unaware of the assigned intervention, so that they will not be influenced by that knowledge. Blinding usually reduces differential assessment of outcomes (information bias), but can also improve compliance and retention of trial participants while reducing biased supplemental care or treatment (sometimes called co-intervention). Many investigators and readers naïvely consider a randomised trial as high quality simply because it is double blind, as if double-blinding is the sine qua non of a randomised controlled trial. Although double blinding (blinding investigators, participants, and outcome assessors) indicates a strong design, trials that are not double blinded should not automatically be deemed inferior. Rather than solely relying on terminology like double blinding, researchers should explicitly state who was blinded, and how. We recommend placing greater credence in results when investigators at least blind outcome assessments, except with objective outcomes, such as death, which leave little room for bias. If investigators properly report their blinding efforts, readers can judge them. Unfortunately, many articles do not contain proper reporting. If an article claims blinding without any accompanying clarification, readers should remain sceptical about its effect on bias reduction.

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