In October 2006 the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport announced that the use of pre-randomisation in study designs is admissible and not in conflict with the Dutch Medical Research in Human Subjects Act. With pre-randomisation, the conventional sequence of obtaining informed consent followed by randomisation is reversed. According to the original pre-randomisation design (Zelen design), participants are randomised before they are asked to consent; after randomisation, only participants in the experimental group are asked to consent to treatment and effect measurement. In the past, pre-randomisation has seldom been used, and when it was, it was often under the wrong circumstances. Awareness regarding the ethical, legal and methodological objections to prerandomisation is increasing. About a decade ago, we illustrated the applicability and acceptability of pre-randomisation by means of a fictitious heroin provision trial. In general, pre-randomisation is justified if valid evaluation of the effects of an intervention is impossible using a conventional randomised design, e.g. if knowledge of the intervention may lead to non-compliance or drop-out in the control group, or when the intervention is an educational programme. Other requirements for pre-randomisation include the following: the study has a clinically relevant objective, it is likely that the study will lead to important new insights, the informed consent procedure bears no potential harm to participants, at least standard care is offered to participants in the control group, and the approval of an independent research ethics committee is obtained.

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Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Schellings, R., Kessels, A., & Sturmans, F. (2008). Pre-randomisation in study designs: Getting past the taboo. Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde, 2053–2056. Retrieved from