Blind outcome assessment: the development and use of procedures to maintain and describe blinding in a pragmatic physiotherapy rehabilitation trial

Clin Rehabil. 2011 Mar;25(3):264-74. doi: 10.1177/0269215510380824. Epub 2010 Oct 22.


Objectives: (1) To develop trial protocols which promote the achievement of blind outcome assessment. (2) To report outcome assessor beliefs regarding group allocation at follow-up assessments. (3) To document and describe instances of unblinding occurring during the trial to assist and inform rehabilitation researchers and clinicians.

Design: Prospective longitudinal observational study.

Setting: An NHS Hospital Trust specializing in orthopaedic surgery.

Subjects: One hundred and seven patients participating in a prospective pragmatic randomized controlled trial investigating physiotherapy rehabilitation following total knee arthroplasty, plus three outcome assessors.

Interventions: A protocol was developed using available research and designed to minimize instances of unblinding during a physiotherapy rehabilitation trial. Administrative, office, patient and research staff procedures were included.

Main measures: Trial questionnaires measured blind outcome assessment responses at 3 and 12 months post surgery. The outcome assessor kept a field diary recording the events surrounding instances of unblinding. Data underwent descriptive and content analysis.

Results: Blind outcome assessment was believed successful for n = 74 (81.32%) assessments at 3-month follow-up, and n = 83 (91.21%) at 12 months. Forty instances (n = 28 participants) of unblinding were described in the field diary. While the main cause of unblinding was participants telling the outcome assessor, in 12.5% of events the assessor drew the wrong conclusion regarding group allocation. Not all unblinding events were remembered at subsequent assessments, even in this relatively small trial.

Conclusions: Blind outcome assessment was considered achievable in this trial. Specific trial protocols enabled blinding beliefs to be reported and instances of unblinding to be described.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arthroplasty, Replacement, Knee / methods
  • Arthroplasty, Replacement, Knee / rehabilitation*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / rehabilitation*
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / surgery
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom