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The Patient Deficit Model Overturned: a qualitative study of patients' perceptions of invitation to participate in a randomized controlled trial comparing selective bladder preservation against surgery in muscle invasive bladder cancer (SPARE, CRUK/07/011)

Clare Moynihan1*, Rebecca Lewis1, Emma Hall1, Emma Jones1, Alison Birtle2, Robert Huddart1 and SPARE Trial Management Group

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Cancer Research, London, UK

2 Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Preston, Lancashire, UK

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Trials 2012, 13:228  doi:10.1186/1745-6215-13-228

Published: 29 November 2012



Evidence suggests that poor recruitment into clinical trials rests on a patient ‘deficit’ model – an inability to comprehend trial processes. Poor communication has also been cited as a possible barrier to recruitment. A qualitative patient interview study was included within the feasibility stage of a phase III non-inferiority Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) (SPARE, CRUK/07/011) in muscle invasive bladder cancer. The aim was to illuminate problems in the context of randomization.


The qualitative study used a ‘Framework Analysis’ that included ‘constant comparison’ in which semi-structured interviews are transcribed, analyzed, compared and contrasted both between and within transcripts. Three researchers coded and interpreted data.


Twenty-four patients agreed to enter the interview study; 10 decliners of randomization and 14 accepters, of whom 2 subsequently declined their allocated treatment.

The main theme applying to the majority of the sample was confusion and ambiguity. There was little indication that confusion directly impacted on decisions to enter the SPARE trial. However, confusion did appear to impact on ethical considerations surrounding ‘informed consent’, as well as cause a sense of alienation between patients and health personnel.

Sub-optimal communication in many guises accounted for the confusion, together with the logistical elements of a trial that involved treatment options delivered in a number of geographical locations.


These data highlight the difficulty of providing balanced and clear trial information within the UK health system, despite best intentions. Involvement of multiple professionals can impact on communication processes with patients who are considering participation in RCTs. Our results led us to question the ‘deficit’ model of patient behavior. It is suggested that health professionals might consider facilitating a context in which patients feel fully included in the trial enterprise and potentially consider alternatives to randomization where complex interventions are being tested.

Trial Registration


Patient interviews; Randomized controlled trials; Equipoise; Bladder cancer; Complex interventions; Qualitative methodology; Communication; Confusion