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Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2011;13(2):217-24.

A pragmatic view on pragmatic trials.

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Division of Genetics, Department of Medicine, Brigham & Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, 77 Avenue Louis Pasteur, New Research Building (NRB) #150 Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Clinical trials have been the main tool used by the health sciences community to test and evaluate interventions, Trials can fall into two broad categories: pragmatic and explanatory. Pragmatic trials are designed to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions in real-life routine practice conditions, whereas explanatory trials aim to test whether an intervention works under optimal situations. Pragmatic trials produce results that can be generalized and applied in routine practice settings. Since most results from exploratory trials fail to be broadly generalizable, the "pragmatic design" has gained momentum. This review describes the concept of pragmatism, and explains in particular that there is a continuum between pragmatic and explanatory trials, rather than a dichotomy. Special focus is put on the limitations of the pragmatic trials, while recognizing the importance for and impact of this design on medical practice.

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