Evaluating the balance of benefits and harms in chronic pain clinical trials: prioritizing individual participants over individual outcomes

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Regional anesthesia and pain medicine




chronic pain; outcomes; pain management


BACKGROUND: Randomized clinical trials (RCTs) generally assess efficacy and safety separately, with the conclusion of whether a treatment is beneficial based solely on the efficacy endpoint. However, assessing and combining efficacy and safety domains, using a single composite outcome measure, can provide a more comprehensive assessment of the overall effect of a treatment. Furthermore, composite outcomes can incorporate information regarding the relationship between the individual outcomes. In fact, such outcomes have been suggested in the clinical trials literature for at least 15 years. OBJECTIVES: To (1) identify whether recent primary publications of chronic pain RCTs from major pain journals included a composite outcome measure of benefits and harms and (2) discuss the potential benefits of such outcomes in various stages of treatment development, including as outcome measures in RCTs, and to support decisions of Data and Safety Monitoring Boards and ordering of treatments in the context of treatment guidelines. EVIDENCE REVIEW: RCTs published in 6 major pain journals published between 2016 and 2021 that investigated interventions for chronic pain were reviewed. FINDINGS: Of 73 RCTs identified, only 2 included a composite outcome measure of benefits and harms. Both of these articles compared 2 active treatments. CONCLUSIONS: Composite outcomes of benefits and harms are underutilized in chronic pain RCTs. The advantages and challenges of using such outcomes are discussed.


Biostatistics and Bioinformatics