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Discussion of Response Bias (2011) - relevant to CFS trials

Discussion in 'Other Health News and Research' started by oceanblue, Mar 24, 2012.

  1. oceanblue

    oceanblue Senior Member

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    Response bias occurs when patients in a clinical trial - which may include CFS trials - artificially inflate their scores to please researchers. It is recognised as a potential problem, but there isn't a lot of good research on it. A recent paper from placebo expert Asbjorn Hrobjartsson discusses some of the issues with response bias, as it can artificially inflate the response to placebo treatment too.

    Placebo effect studies are susceptible to response bias and to other types of biases.
    Hrbjartsson A, Kaptchuk TJ, Miller FG. (2011)

    Abstract (highlights)

    OBJECTIVE: Investigations of the effect of placebo are often challenging to conduct and interpret. The history of placebo shows that assessment of its clinical significance has a real potential to be biased. We analyze and discuss typical types of bias in studies on placebo.

    ...RESULTS: The inherent nonblinded comparison between placebo and no-treatment is the best research design we have in estimating effects of placebo, both in a clinical and in an experimental setting, but the difference between placebo and no-treatment remains an approximate and fairly crude reflection of the true effect of placebo interventions. A main problem is response bias in trials with outcomes that are based on patients' reports...

    CONCLUSIONS:Creative experimental efforts are needed to assess rigorously the clinical significance of placebo interventions and investigate the component elements that may contribute to the therapeutic benefit.

    Background on placebo studies

    Hrobjartsson famously demonstrated that placebo effects in general have been greatly overestimated. The critical mistake was to assume all improvement from baseline in the placebo group of clinical trials was due to the placebo itself, when there are other explanations including natural improvement and regression to the mean. By comparing placebo groups with more appropriate groups eg waiting list or 'no treatment' groups, he showed that placebos did not generally produce powerful clinical effects. These findings were broadly confirmed in even larger meta-analyses, most recently in 2010.

    Nonetheless, the placebo effect is not dead, as he points out in this paper:

    The issue with patient-reported outcomes is where response bias comes in, and is particularly relevant to CFS studies where almost all outcomes are self-reported. The general problem is set up in this paper as:
    I've picked out key points from the discussion of response bias:
    Of course, in non-blinded and non-placebo-controlled studies, such as the PACE Trial, this doesn't apply and response bias can indeed distort results. PACE relied on therapy with an average of 13 hours of contact between therapist and patient, and a typical patients-therapist relationship that was independently assessed as 'very strong'. Such a strong patient-provider relationship is likely to be a causal factor in response bias, as this paper spells out.
    Esther12, biophile and Snow Leopard like this.
  2. Esther12

    Esther12 Senior Member

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    Thanks OB.

    LOL at how well this seems to fit CBT and subjective outcome measures:

  3. Enid

    Enid Senior Member

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    Human nature really - and reflects the kind attitude of trial patients towards those experts (?) trying to aid them I guess. (I did with my Docs until wise to their ignorance ..... after some time).

    Dodgy interviewee then. LOL.
  4. Valentijn

    Valentijn Activity Level: 3

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    I'd imagine the problem is even worse in the Dutch studies, since their CBT for CFS manual is specifically aimed at getting the patient to see themselves as a non-patient (not sick), and to attribute PEM symptoms to other causes ("normal" fatigue, the flu, etc). It's not just about pleasing the therapist, it's about being deliberately brain-washed to see yourself as healthy.
    biophile, Snow Leopard and Enid like this.
  5. Enid

    Enid Senior Member

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    Quite agree Valentijn.
  6. LHCTom

    LHCTom

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    I'm currently wearing a full time activity monitor to record my actual amount of activity prior to treatment. It will be a little difficult to inflate my results when my activity level is so closely related to "how I feel". I have to wear it at least 23 hours a day and it records time sleeping, inactive, walking and very active. When I plug it in my PC, the people at the OMI can see the uploaded data. This seems like a sensible way of getting real quantitative data that is closely tied to how I feel that hopefully will improve at some point during treatment.
  7. Esther12

    Esther12 Senior Member

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    Yeah. There's still a potential problem if patients are encouraged to shift resources from intellectual challenges to physical activity, or just pushing themselves more despite feeling consistently worse from it (unlikely to be sustainable in the long run), but something like actometers would still be a really useful way of assessing the impact of treatments for CFS.

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