Comparison of evidence on harms of medical interventions in randomized and nonrandomized studies

Papanikolaou, Panagiotis N.; Christidi, Georgia D.; Ioannidis, John P. A.
February 2006
CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal;2/28/2006, Vol. 174 Issue 5, p635
Academic Journal
Abstract Background Information on major harms of medical interventions comes primarily from epidemiologic studies performed after licensing and marketing. Comparison with data from large-scale randomized trials is occasionally feasible. We compared evidence from randomized trials with that from epidemiologic studies to determine whether they give different estimates of risk for important harms of medical interventions. Methods We targeted well-defined, specific harms of various medical interventions for which data were already available from large-scale randomized trials ({beta} 4000 subjects). Nonrandomized studies involving at least 4000 subjects addressing these same harms were retrieved through a search of MEDLINE. We compared the relative risks and absolute risk differences for specific harms in the randomized and nonrandomized studies. Results Eligible nonrandomized studies were found for 15 harms for which data were available from randomized trials addressing the same harms. Comparisons of relative risks between the study types were feasible for 13 of the 15 topics, and of absolute risk differences for 8 topics. The estimated increase in relative risk differed more than 2-fold between the randomized and nonrandomized studies for 7 (54%) of the 13 topics; the estimated increase in absolute risk differed more than 2-fold for 5 (62%) of the 8 topics. There was no clear predilection for randomized or nonrandomized studies to estimate greater relative risks, but usually (75% [6/8]) the randomized trials estimated larger absolute excess risks of harm than the nonrandomized studies did. Interpretation Nonrandomized studies are often conservative in estimating absolute risks of harms. It would be useful to compare and scrutinize the evidence on harms obtained from both randomized and nonrandomized studies.


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