Importance of Randomized Control Trials

January 17, 2018
Importance of Randomized Control Trials

The Centre of Excellence (CoE) scheme’s unique long-term, core funding enables researchers to undertake large-scale intervention studies, which would otherwise be unthinkable. These large, ground-breaking studies, in turn, can generate further research projects and capacity-strengthening opportunities.

New era in medical decision-making

CISMAC PhD student, Bireshwar Sinha explains that medicine has entered an era of “evidence-based decision-making” where there is conscious and reasonable use of the current, best scientific evidence in decision-making for individual treatment and for population health action. Dr. Sinha cautions, however, that one needs to be careful about the quality of evidence used, as not all studies are conducted with sufficient levels of scientific rigor. He highlights the importance of well-conducted large randomized controlled trials (RCTs). These, he states, when adequately powered to answer the question of interest and when done with the highest possible quality, contributes to evidence that can inform policy and practice.  

Gold-standard for estimating treatment effect

RCTs are considered to be the “gold-standard” method for estimating treatment effect. They provide important data for evidence-based decision-making. The random allocation of participants, when undertaken properly, minimizes as much as possible the potential for bias. A well-executed RCT can provide highly credible evidence about the efficacy of an intervention and the effectiveness of a health programme.

RCT results provide important input to policy makers, enabling them to make evidence-based decisions in areas such as improving health systems and health equity. RCTs thereby play a critical role in improving people’s health and welfare. This also holds true for vulnerable populations in low-income countries in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.  

RCTs are costly

Few research groups have long-term core funding support that enable them to undertake such large-scale studies. However, the Research Council of Norway’s CoE funding scheme, has enabled CISMAC to undertake several important RCTs.

Generation of spin-offs

Well designed, large-scale intervention studies generate so much data that they also have tremendous potential for spin-off and add-on studies. In addition to expanding the relevance of the initial study, such studies provide important capacity-strengthening opportunities for young researchers. They provide them with excellent opportunities to design and lead their own research projects that will, in turn, build on the RCT results.

Author: Elinor Bartle