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01.12.2018 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 1/2018

Discontinuation of the PACE Plus trial: problems in patient recruitment in general practice

BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders > Ausgabe 1/2018
M. Schreijenberg, P. A. J. Luijsterburg, Y. D. M. Van Trier, D. Rizopoulos, M. A. Koopmanschap, L. Voogt, C. G. Maher, B. W. Koes



The PACE Plus trial was a multi-center, double-blinded, superiority randomized controlled trial (RCT) conducted in patients from Dutch general practice to investigate the efficacy of paracetamol and NSAIDs in acute non-specific low back pain (LBP). Because insufficient numbers of patients could be recruited (only four out of the required 800 patients could be recruited over a period of 6 months), the trial was prematurely terminated in February 2017, 6 months after the start of recruitment. This article aims to transparently communicate the discontinuation of PACE Plus and to make recommendations for future studies.


General Practitioners (GPs) from 36 participating practices received a one-question survey in which they were asked to give the three most important factors that in their opinion contributed to failure of patient recruitment.


GPs of 33 out of 36 (92%) participating practices sent a response. A total of 81 factors were reported. These have been categorized into patient factors (26 out of 81 comments, 32%), GP factors (39 out of 81 comments, 48%) and research factors (16 out of 81 comments, 20%).


Patient recruitment in the PACE Plus trial may have failed due to inefficient medication distribution, recruitment of incident rather than prevalent cases, a design that was too complicated, adequate self-management of LBP, patient expectations different from the trial’s scope and lack of time of participating GPs. Substantial differences in design may explain why the preceding PACE trial did manage to successfully complete patient recruitment.


Although the PACE Plus trial was terminated as a result of insufficient patient inclusion, the research questions addressed in this trial remain relevant but unanswered. We hope that lessons learned from the discontinuation of PACE Plus and corresponding recommendations may be helpful in the design of upcoming research projects in LBP in general practice.

Trial registration

Dutch Trial Registration NTR6089, registered September 14th 2016.
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