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Lancet. 2002 Feb 16;359(9306):614-8.

Allocation concealment in randomised trials: defending against deciphering.

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Family Health International, PO Box 13950, 27709, Research Triangle Park, NC, USA.


Proper randomisation rests on adequate allocation concealment. An allocation concealment process keeps clinicians and participants unaware of upcoming assignments. Without it, even properly developed random allocation sequences can be subverted. Within this concealment process, the crucial unbiased nature of randomised controlled trials collides with their most vexing implementation problems. Proper allocation concealment frequently frustrates clinical inclinations, which annoys those who do the trials. Randomised controlled trials are anathema to clinicians. Many involved with trials will be tempted to decipher assignments, which subverts randomisation. For some implementing a trial, deciphering the allocation scheme might frequently become too great an intellectual challenge to resist. Whether their motives indicate innocent or pernicious intents, such tampering undermines the validity of a trial. Indeed, inadequate allocation concealment leads to exaggerated estimates of treatment effect, on average, but with scope for bias in either direction. Trial investigators will be crafty in any potential efforts to decipher the allocation sequence, so trial designers must be just as clever in their design efforts to prevent deciphering. Investigators must effectively immunise trials against selection and confounding biases with proper allocation concealment. Furthermore, investigators should report baseline comparisons on important prognostic variables. Hypothesis tests of baseline characteristics, however, are superfluous and could be harmful if they lead investigators to suppress reporting any baseline imbalances.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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