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Effect of spin in the abstract of a randomised controlled trial on physiotherapists’ perception of treatment benefit: a randomised controlled trial


Objective To assess the effect of spin in the abstract of a randomised controlled trial (RCT) on physiotherapists’ perception of treatment benefit evaluated in the trial.

Design Parallel-group RCT.

Setting Physiotherapy departments in hospitals and clinics in India.

Participants Physiotherapists working in clinical settings.

Interventions We selected one abstract with high level of spin published in one of the core journals of physiotherapy and created two versions of the abstract, that is, with and without spin. We randomly assigned physiotherapists working in clinical settings (N=128) to read one version of the selected abstract, with or without spin. Participants were blinded to the study design, objectives and randomisation.

Main outcome measures Physiotherapists’ interpretation of beneficial effect of the experimental treatment (0–10 scale) reported in the abstract. The secondary outcomes were clinicians’ perception of methodological rigour and the study importance, their interest in reading the full text, and their interest in running another trial evaluating this treatment.

Results We found a medium reduction in confidence of beneficial effect of the experimental treatment among physiotherapists who read the abstract without spin (mean score 4.3±2.8) compared with those who read the abstract with spin (mean score 6.14±2.6). The mean difference in scores between abstracts with and without spin was 1.8 (95% CI 0.8 to 2.8; p<0.001). For other outcomes measures studied there was no statistically significant effect.

Conclusions Removal of spin in the abstract of RCT reporting statistically non-significant results have medium effect in improving physiotherapists’ accuracy of interpretation of study results. Spin contributes to clinicians’ positive perception about the benefit of experimental intervention tested in the trial despite the evidence showing no superiority of experimental intervention.

Trial registration number CTRI/2020/02/023557.

  • evidence-based practice
  • physical and rehabilitation medicine
  • rehabillitation

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request.

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