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Background: This paper describes the experiences of 8 licensed acupuncturists in a placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial (RCT). This information is important to the design and conduct of high-quality trials. Methods: We conducted a RCT (N = 135) with a 2-week placebo run-in followed by 4 weeks of twice-weekly treatments comparing genuine to sham acupuncture (using the Streitberger placebo needle) in the treatment of arm pain caused by repetitive use. At the end of this study, we conducted written structured interviews with 8 participating acupuncturists. The acupuncturists were not aware of the study's results at the time of these interviews. The questions focused on their experiences in the study, adherence to study protocols, their thoughts about the technical and ethical issues involved in using a sham needling device, and their expectations of trial outcomes. The questions were motivated by expressions of concerns the acupuncturists raised in feedback groups during the course of the study, and our desire to improve further trials. Results: The acupuncturists differed widely in their comfort levels with the research methods used, their adherence to the study protocol, and their expectations of trial outcomes. Conclusions: We conclude that careful monitoring of acupuncturists, including observation of treatments and frequent meetings to support them throughout the trial, is necessary to maintain a high degree of quality control.
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OBJECTIVES: This study aimed to compare the effects of true and sham acupuncture in relieving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). METHODS: A total of 230 adult IBS patients (75% females, average age: 38.4 years) were randomly assigned to 3 weeks of true or sham acupuncture (6 treatments) after a 3-week "run-in" with sham acupuncture in an "augmented" or "limited" patient–practitioner interaction. A third arm of the study included a waitlist control group. The primary outcome was the IBS Global Improvement Scale (IBS-GIS) (range: 1–7); secondary outcomes included the IBS Symptom Severity Scale (IBS-SSS), the IBS Adequate Relief (IBS-AR), and the IBS Quality of Life (IBS-QOL). RESULTS: Although there was no statistically significant difference between acupuncture and sham acupuncture on the IBS-GIS (41 vs. 32%, P=0.25), both groups improved significantly compared with the waitlist control group (37 vs. 4%, P=0.001). Similarly, small differences that were not statistically significant favored acupuncture over the other three outcomes: IBS-AR (59 vs. 57%, P=0.83), IBS-SSS (31 vs. 21%, P=0.18), and IBS-QOL (17 vs. 13%, P=0.56). Eliminating responders during the run-in period did not substantively change the results. Side effects were generally mild and only slightly greater in the acupuncture group. CONCLUSIONS: This study did not find evidence to support the superiority of acupuncture compared with sham acupuncture in the treatment of IBS.
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