Background: Enrolment of patients into a randomised controlled trial (RCT) in violation of key inclusion or exclusion criteria, may lead to excess avoidable harm. The purpose of this paper was to systematically identify and review techniques and interventions proven to prevent or avoid inappropriate enrolment of patients into RCTs.
Methods: EMBASE, MEDLINE, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Cochrane Methodology Register, online abstract repositories, and conference websites were searched. Experts were contacted and bibliographies of retrieved papers hand-searched. The search cut-off date was 31 August 2009.
Results: No primary publications were found. We identified one study in the grey literature (conference abstracts and presentations) reporting the results of an evaluation of the effectiveness of an intervention designed to prevent or avoid inappropriate enrolment of patients into an RCT. In the context of a multicentre trial, use of a dummy enrolment run-in phase was shown to reduce enrolment errors significantly (P < 0.001), from 16.1% during the run-in phase to < 1% after trial initiation.
Conclusions: Our systematic search yielded only one technique or intervention shown to improve adherence to eligibility criteria during enrolment into RCTs. Given the potential harm involved in recruiting patients into a clinical trial in violation of key eligibility criteria, future research is needed to better inform those conducting clinical trials of how best to prevent enrolment errors.