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When Are Treatment Blinding and Treatment Standardization Necessary in Real-World Clinical Trials?

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Concerns regarding both the limited generalizability and the slow pace of traditional randomized trials have led to calls for greater use of real-world evidence in the evaluation of new treatments or products. Real-world clinical trials or pragmatic trials often differ from traditional clinical trials in the use of open-label or nonblinded treatments delivered by real-world clinicians in community practice settings. Blinding and standardization of treatment may sometimes be necessary for internal validity, but they may also obscure or distort meaningful differences between treatments. When investigators consider whether blinding of clinicians, patients, or assessors is necessary, we suggest they consider several specific questions: Will clinicians, patients, and assessors have expectations or preferences regarding benefits or adverse effects? How might those expectations affect treatment uptake, treatment adherence, or assessment of outcomes? Will expectations differ in the settings where trial results will be applied? How would blinding of treatment reduce biases? How would blinding obscure true differences between treatments? How would procedures necessary for blinding reduce acceptability or increase risk of trial participation? When investigators consider how strictly treatments should be standardized, we suggest they consider several specific questions: How would treatment effectiveness or safety vary according to clinician experience or expertise? What level of experience or expertise is available in potential trial settings and settings where trial results would be applied? Is some level of standardization necessary for valid inference? Considering any special vulnerabilities of the study population, is some level of standardization necessary to assure participant safety?

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