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The Randomised Controlled Trial design: unrecognized opportunities for health sciences librarianship

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Abstract

Objectives: to describe the essential components of the Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) and its major variations; to describe less conventional applications of the RCT design found in the health sciences literature with potential relevance to health sciences librarianship; to discuss the limited number of RCTs within health sciences librarianship.

Methods: narrative review supported to a limited extent with PubMed and Library Literature database searches consistent with specific search parameters. In addition, more systematic methods, including handsearching of specific journals, to identify health sciences librarianship RCTs.

Results: While many RCTs within the health sciences follow more conventional patterns, some RCTs assume certain unique features. Selected examples illustrate the adaptations of this experimental design to answering questions of possible relevance to health sciences librarians. The author offers several strategies for controlling bias in library and informatics applications of the RCT and acknowledges the potential of the electronic era in providing many opportunities to utilize the blinding aspects of RCTs. RCTs within health sciences librarianship inhabit a limited number of subject domains such as education. This limited scope offers both advantages and disadvantages for making Evidence-Based Librarianship (EBL) a reality.

Conclusion: The RCT design offers the potential to answer far more EBL questions than have been addressed by the design to date. Librarians need only extend their horizons through use of the versatile RCT design into new subject domains to facilitate making EBL a reality.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2003

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