Background: Placebo or sham controls are the standard against which the benefits and harms of many active interventions are measured. Whilst the components and the method of their delivery have been shown to affect study outcomes, placebo and sham controls are rarely reported and often not matched to those of the active comparator. This can influence how beneficial or harmful the active intervention appears to be. Without adequate descriptions of placebo or sham controls, it is difficult to interpret results about the benefits and harms of active interventions within placebo-controlled trials. To overcome this problem, we developed a checklist and guide for reporting placebo or sham interventions.
Methods and findings: We developed an initial list of items for the checklist by surveying experts in placebo research (n = 14). Because of the diverse contexts in which placebo or sham treatments are used in clinical research, we consulted experts in trials of drugs, surgery, physiotherapy, acupuncture, and psychological interventions. We then used a multistage online Delphi process with 53 participants to determine which items were deemed to be essential. We next convened a group of experts and stakeholders (n = 16). Our main output was a modification of the existing Template for Intervention Description and Replication (TIDieR) checklist; this allows the key features of both active interventions and placebo or sham controls to be concisely summarised by researchers. The main differences between TIDieR-Placebo and the original TIDieR are the explicit requirement to describe the setting (i.e., features of the physical environment that go beyond geographic location), the need to report whether blinding was successful (when this was measured), and the need to present the description of placebo components alongside those of the active comparator.
Conclusions: We encourage TIDieR-Placebo to be used alongside TIDieR to assist the reporting of placebo or sham components and the trials in which they are used.