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Future research in emergency medicine: explanation or pragmatism? Large or small? Simple or complex?
  1. Timothy J Coats
  1. Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Leicester, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor TJ Coats, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Leicester, Clinical Sciences Building, Leicester Royal Infirmary, Infirmary Square, Leicester LE1 5WW, UK; tc61{at}

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Recent publications have indicated that there is a crisis in clinical research. The cost of an industry-led clinical trial is now estimated at some US$100–200 million, within which an average 25% of centres will recruit no patients. The median number of enrolment (entry) criteria in a drug trial is 49, with a median of 158 different trial procedures. The number of data items per patient often runs into thousands, so it is little surprise that the average time to trial completion increased 70% between 1999 and 2006.1

There seems to be a self-sustaining ‘industry’ of bureaucracy around research. This system generates huge costs and a mountain of paperwork, which in turn makes the employment of trial managers essential. These costs are passed on to the industry or public funders of medical research. Regulatory rules that are designed for ‘pharma’ trials of new drugs are also applied to ‘investigator-led’ trials, even if the drug involved is already in use and has a very well-known safety profile.

Against this background, as our specialty evolves, it is a good time for us to ask how emergency medicine research fits in the complex and competitive world of clinical research. Our specialty is a broad church, with emergency physicians having a legitimate research interest in almost all areas of medicine. We cannot be experts in the science of ‘everything’, but we can be experts in a particular type of methodology, which can then be applied to many different areas. The question ‘What type of primary research is best suited to emergency medicine?’ is key to the future development of the academic part of our specialty.

Current situation

Overall, the clinical trials that are performed in emergency medicine tend to be underpowered. …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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