Randomized Controlled Trials for Diagnostic Imaging: Conceptual and Pratical Problems

Topoi 38 (2):395-400 (2019)
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We raise a problem of applicability of RCTs to validate nuclear diagnostic imaging tests. In spite of the wide application of PET and other similar techniques that use radiopharmaceuticals for diagnostic purposes, RCT-based evidence on their validity is sparse. We claim that this is due to a general conceptual problem that we call Prevalence of Treatment, which arises in connection with designing RCTs for testing any diagnostic procedure in the present context of medical research, and is particularly apparent in this case. We also identify three practical reasons why RCTs do not qualify as the best option for PET validation, which have to do with specific characteristics of nuclear diagnostic imaging, and of radiopharmaceuticals. The paper is meant to contribute both to the philosophical discussion on the EBM hierarchy of evidence, and on the specific debate on radiopharmaceuticals in nuclear medicine.
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