Merged block randomisation: A novel randomisation procedure for small clinical trials

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Background/Aims: Randomisation in small clinical trials is a delicate matter, due to the tension between the conflicting aims of balanced groups and unpredictable allocations. The commonly used method of permuted block randomisation has been heavily criticised for its high predictability. This article introduces merged block randomisation, a novel and conceptually simple restricted randomisation design for small clinical trials (less than 100 patients per stratum). Merged block randomisation is a simple procedure that can be carried out without need for a computer. Merged block randomisation is not restricted to 1:1 randomisation, but is readily applied to unequal target allocations and to more than two treatment groups. Methods: The position of merged block randomisation on the spectrum of balance and predictability is investigated in a simulation study, in two common situations: a single-centre study and a multicentre study (with sampling stratified per centre). Methods included for comparison were permuted block randomisation, Efron’s biased coin design, the maximal procedure, the block urn design and the big stick design. Results: Compared to permuted block randomisation with blocks of size 4, merged block randomisation has the same maximum tolerated imbalance and is thus as impervious to chronological bias, with the added benefit of being less predictable. Each method in the study takes a different position on the balance/determinism spectrum, and none was uniformly best. Merged block randomisation was either less predictable or more balanced than the other methods, in all simulation settings. Conclusion: Merged block randomisation is a versatile restricted randomisation method that outperforms permuted block randomisation and is a good choice for small clinical trials where imbalance is a main concern, especially in multicentre trials where the number of patients per centre may be small.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-252
Number of pages7
JournalClinical Trials
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Restricted random allocation
  • chronological bias
  • merged block randomisation
  • permuted block randomisation
  • selection bias
  • small clinical trials
  • stratified randomisation

Cite this