Can keeping clinical trial participants blind to their study treatment adversely affect subsequent care?

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8 Scopus citations


Subjects in controlled clinical trials obtain experience with study-provided treatment that could inform their further therapy by awareness of the efficacy or inefficacy of the study treatment they received. However, patients in blinded trials typically do not learn right after their participation what treatment they actually received during the study, even though it is possible to do so while maintaining the necessary blinding of investigators. Keeping investigators and subjects blind to treatment assignment throughout a trial is a key element of clinical research methodology, but the value of keeping participants and their medical providers blinded after participation is less certain and may pose risks that include delay in the receipt of efficacious care, exacerbation of symptoms, or prolonged exposure to superfluous or toxic treatment. The significance of these risks is likely to vary with the specific disease and the time course of its response to available therapies. Currently, it seems appropriate for investigators a) to evaluate the risks of keeping subjects blind after participation, b) to justify doing so in relation to serious, identifiable risks to the study's validity and apprise prospective subjects clearly that information about their response to specific treatment during the trial will not be available to guide their post-study care, and c) to consider methods for debriefing subjects before their resumption of open treatment that preserve the integrity of investigator blinding. In the long-run, research on the impact that keeping subjects uninformed about study treatment has on post-study patient outcomes and on study integrity can foster the development of procedures that optimally balance both.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)290-299
Number of pages10
JournalContemporary Clinical Trials
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Clinical trials
  • Double-blind method
  • Ethical concerns

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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