Weighing the benefits and risks of proliferating observational treatment assessments: observational cacophony, randomised harmony


31 July 2020 - Amid the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic, substantial effort is being directed toward mining databases and publishing case series and reports that may provide insights into the epidemiology and clinical management of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). 

However, there is growing concern about whether attempts to infer causation about the benefits and risks of potential therapeutics from non-randomised studies are providing insights that improve clinical knowledge and accelerate the search for needed answers, or whether these reports just add noise, confusion, and false confidence. Most of these studies include a caveat indicating that “randomised clinical trials are needed.” 

But disclaimers aside, does this approach help make the case for well-designed randomised clinical trials and accelerate their delivery? Or do observational studies reduce the likelihood of a properly designed trial being performed, thereby delaying the discovery of reliable truth?

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Michael Wonder

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Michael Wonder