Increased Patient Enrollment to a Randomized Surgical Trial Through Equipoise Polling of an Expert Surgeon Panel

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To determine whether patients who learned the views of an expert surgeons’ panel's assessment of equipoise between 2 alternative operative treatments had increased likelihood of consenting to randomization.


Difficulty obtaining patient consent to randomization is an important barrier to conducting surgical randomized clinical trials, the gold standard for generating clinical evidence.


Observational study of the rate of patient acceptance of randomization within a 5-center randomized clinical trial comparing lumbar spinal decompression versus lumbar spinal decompression plus instrumented fusion for patients with symptomatic grade I degenerative lumbar spondylolisthesis with spinal stenosis. Eligible patients were enrolled in the trial and then asked to accept randomization. A panel of 10 expert spine surgeons was formed to review clinical information and images for individual patients to provide an assessment of suitability for randomization. The expert panel vote was disclosed to the patient by the patient's surgeon before the patient decided whether to accept randomization or not.


Randomization acceptance among eligible patients without expert panel review was 40% (19/48) compared with 81% (47/58) among patients undergoing expert panel review (P < 0.001). Among expert-reviewed patients, randomization acceptance was 95% when all experts or all except 1 voted for randomization, 75% when 2 experts voted against randomization, and 20% with 3 or 4 votes against (P < 0.001 for trend).


Patients provided with an expert panel's assessment of their own suitability for randomization were twice as likely to agree to randomization compared with patients receiving only their own surgeon's recommendation.

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