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Modelling and simulating early stopping of RCTs: a case study of early stop due to harm

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Despite efforts from regulatory agencies (e.g. NIH, FDA), recent systematic reviews of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) show that top medical journals continue to publish trials without requiring authors to report details for readers to evaluate early stopping decisions carefully. This article presents a systematic way of modelling and simulating interim monitoring decisions of RCTs. By taking an approach that is both general and rigorous, the proposed framework models and evaluates early stopping decisions of RCTs based on a clear and consistent set of criteria. The framework allows decision analysts to generate and quickly answer ‘what-if’ questions by simulating alternate trial scenarios. I illustrate the framework with a case study of an RCT that was stopped early due to harm. This was a trial of vitamin A supplement in relation to HIV transmission from mother-to-child through breastfeeding.
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Keywords: Bayesian methods; computer modelling and simulation; counterfactual reasoning; decision theory; statistical evidence and inference

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy,University of British Columbia, Vancouver,BC, Canada

Publication date: December 1, 2012

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