Bone and Joint Institute

Document Type


Publication Date



BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders





URL with Digital Object Identifier



© 2018 The Author(s). Background: The objective of this analysis is to evaluate the necessity of large clinical trials using FLOW trial data. Methods: The FLOW pilot study and definitive trial were factorial trials evaluating the effect of different irrigation solutions and pressures on re-operation. To explore treatment effects over time, we analyzed data from the pilot and definitive trial in increments of 250 patients until the final sample size of 2447 patients was reached. At each increment we calculated the relative risk (RR) and associated 95% confidence interval (CI) for the treatment effect, and compared the results that would have been reported at the smaller enrolments with those seen in the final, adequately powered study. Results: The pilot study analysis of 89 patients and initial incremental enrolments in the FLOW definitive trial favored low pressure compared to high pressure (RR: 1.50, 95% CI: 0.75-3.04; RR: 1.39, 95% CI: 0.60-3.23, respectively), which is in contradiction to the final enrolment, which found no difference between high and low pressure (RR: 1.04, 95% CI: 0.81-1.33). In the soap versus saline comparison, the FLOW pilot study suggested that re-operation rate was similar in both the soap and saline groups (RR: 0.98, 95% CI: 0.50-1.92), whereas the FLOW definitive trial found that the re-operation rate was higher in the soap treatment arm (RR: 1.28, 95% CI: 1.04-1.57). Conclusions: Our findings suggest that studies with smaller sample sizes would have led to erroneous conclusions in the management of open fracture wounds. Trial registration: NCT01069315 (FLOW Pilot Study) Date of Registration: February 17, 2010, NCT00788398 (FLOW Definitive Trial) Date of Registration: November 10, 2008.


Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

This article was originally published at: Sprague, S., Tornetta, P., Slobogean, G.P. et al. Are large clinical trials in orthopaedic trauma justified?. BMC Musculoskelet Disord 19, 124 (2018).

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.