Cluster randomised trials of prescribing policy: an ethical approach to generating drug safety evidence? A discussion of the ethical application of a new research method

Amy Rogers, Gillian Craig, Angela Flynn, Isla MacKenzie, Thomas MacDonald, Alexander Doney

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For most chronic medical conditions, multiple medications are available and prescribers often have limited evidence about which therapy is likely to be the most effective and safe for an individual patient. As many patients are exposed every day to medicines that may be less effective than available alternatives, this is of public health importance. Cluster randomised trials of prescribing policy offer an opportunity to rapidly obtain evidence of comparative effectiveness and safety. These trials can pose a low risk to patients and cause minimal disruption to usual care. Despite the potential scientific value of this approach, there remain valid concerns about consent, medication switching and the use of routinely collected data in research. We discuss these concerns with reference to an ongoing pilot study (Evaluating Diuretics in Normal Care (EVIDENCE) - a cluster randomised evaluation of hypertension prescribing policy, ISRCTN 46635087, registered 11 August 2017).

Original languageEnglish
Article number477
Number of pages5
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2020


  • clinical trials
  • cluster randomization
  • comparative effectiveness
  • ethics

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