Evolution not revolution: the future of the randomised controlled trial in intensive care research

Sandra Peake, Anthony Delaney and Craig J French
Med J Aust 2019; 211 (7): . || doi: 10.5694/mja2.50338
Published online: 7 October 2019

Innovative design methodologies may improve the statistical efficiency and success of future randomised trials

Over the past two decades, hundreds of parallel arm, double blind and open label randomised trials have been conducted in the critically ill. The Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society (ANZICS) Clinical Trials Group (CTG) has been at the forefront, conducting pivotal trials that have changed international practice in fields such as fluid resuscitation,1,2 sepsis,3,4 renal failure,5 traumatic brain injury6 and nutrition7. To date, only a handful of multicentre randomised trials have demonstrated improved patient outcomes.8,9 The initial promise of interventions such as protocolised, goal‐directed haemodynamic resuscitation for early septic shock (early goal‐directed therapy),3,10 tight glycaemic control11,12 and recombinant human activated protein C for severe sepsis13 has not been reproduced in subsequent confirmatory trials. Subsequent debate over the role of randomised trials to inform intensive care practice has led to calls for them to be abandoned,14 with others stating that they are “doomed to fail”.15 Is such a revolution in research methodology required? Or is it possible for the randomised clinical trial to evolve? A summary of studies discussed in this article is provided in the Box.

  • Sandra Peake1,2,3
  • Anthony Delaney4,5
  • Craig J French3,6

  • 1 The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Adelaide, SA
  • 2 University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA
  • 3 Monash University, Melbourne, VIC
  • 4 George Institute for Global Health, Sydney, NSW
  • 5 Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, NSW
  • 6 Western Heath, Melbourne, VIC


Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.


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