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Objective To investigate whether placebo effects can experimentally be separated into the response to three components—assessment and observation, a therapeutic ritual (placebo treatment), and a supportive patient-practitioner relationship—and then progressively combined to produce incremental clinical improvement in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. To assess the relative magnitude of these components. Design A six week single blind three arm randomised controlled trial. Setting Academic medical centre. Participants 262 adults (76% women), mean (SD) age 39 (14), diagnosed by Rome II criteria for and with a score of ≥150 on the symptom severity scale. Interventions For three weeks either waiting list (observation), placebo acupuncture alone (“limited”), or placebo acupuncture with a patient-practitioner relationship augmented by warmth, attention, and confidence (“augmented”). At three weeks, half of the patients were randomly assigned to continue in their originally assigned group for an additional three weeks. Main outcome measures Global improvement scale (range 1-7), adequate relief of symptoms, symptom severity score, and quality of life. Results At three weeks, scores on the global improvement scale were 3.8 (SD 1.0) v 4.3 (SD 1.4) v 5.0 (SD 1.3) for waiting list versus “limited” versus “augmented,” respectively (P<0.001 for trend). The proportion of patients reporting adequate relief showed a similar pattern: 28% on waiting list, 44% in limited group, and 62% in augmented group (P<0.001 for trend). The same trend in response existed in symptom severity score (30 (63) v 42 (67) v 82 (89), P<0.001) and quality of life (3.6 (8.1) v 4.1 (9.4) v 9.3 (14.0), P<0.001). All pairwise comparisons between augmented and limited patient-practitioner relationship were significant: global improvement scale (P<0.001), adequate relief of symptoms (P<0.001), symptom severity score (P=0.007), quality of life (P=0.01).Results were similar at six week follow-up. Conclusion Factors contributing to the placebo effect can be progressively combined in a manner resembling a graded dose escalation of component parts. Non-specific effects can produce statistically and clinically significant outcomes and the patient-practitioner relationship is the most robust component. Trial registration Clinical Trials NCT00065403.
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A successful clinical trial is dependent on recruitment. Between December 2003 and February 2006, our team successfully enrolled 289 participants in a large, single-center, randomized placebo-controlled trial (RCT) studying the impact of the patient-doctor relationship and acupuncture on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients. This paper reports on the effectiveness of standard recruitment methods such as physician referral, newspaper advertisements, fliers, audio and video media (radio and television commercials) as well as relatively new methods not previously extensively reported on such as internet ads, ads in mass-transit vehicles and movie theater previews. We also report the fraction of cost each method consumed and fraction of recruitment each method generated. Our cost per call from potential participants varied from $3–$103 and cost per enrollment participant varied from $12–$584. Using a novel metric, the efficacy index, we found that physician referrals and flyers were the most effective recruitment method in our trial. Despite some methods being more efficient than others, all methods contributed to the successful recruitment. The iterative use of the efficacy index during a recruitment campaign may be helpful to calibrate and focus on the most effective recruitment methods.

A successful clinical trial is dependent on recruitment. Between December 2003 and February 2006, our team successfully enrolled 289 participants in a large, single-center, randomized placebo-controlled trial (RCT) studying the impact of the patient-doctor relationship and acupuncture on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients. This paper reports on the effectiveness of standard recruitment methods such as physician referral, newspaper advertisements, fliers, audio and video media (radio and television commercials) as well as relatively new methods not previously extensively reported on such as internet ads, ads in mass-transit vehicles and movie theater previews. We also report the fraction of cost each method consumed and fraction of recruitment each method generated. Our cost per call from potential participants varied from $3–$103 and cost per enrollment participant varied from $12–$584. Using a novel metric, the efficacy index, we found that physician referrals and flyers were the most effective recruitment method in our trial. Despite some methods being more efficient than others, all methods contributed to the successful recruitment. The iterative use of the efficacy index during a recruitment campaign may be helpful to calibrate and focus on the most effective recruitment methods.
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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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