In clinical trials, the standard error is a measure of the variability of an estimated statistic (e.g., mean, proportion) due to random sampling error. It is the standard deviation of the sampling distribution of the statistic.
For example, let's consider a clinical trial comparing two treatments for a specific condition. The primary outcome measure is the mean change in a continuous variable (e.g., blood pressure) from baseline to the end of the study in each treatment group.
Assuming that the data is normally distributed, the mean change and standard deviation can be calculated for each treatment group. These sample statistics can be used to estimate the corresponding population parameters (i.e., mean change and standard deviation) for each treatment group.
However, due to the random nature of sampling, the estimated population parameters are subject to uncertainty. The standard error provides a measure of this uncertainty by estimating the variability of the mean change in the population assuming repeated sampling.
The formula for the standard error of the mean is the standard deviation of the sample divided by the square root of the sample size. In other words, the standard error is a function of the sample size, and the smaller the sample size, the larger the standard error and the greater the uncertainty of the estimated mean.
For example, if the mean change in blood pressure for one of the treatment groups is 10 mmHg with a standard deviation of 3 mmHg, and the sample size is 50, then the standard error would be 0.424 mmHg. This means that if the study were repeated many times, and the mean change in blood pressure was calculated for each study, then the standard error would be the average distance between the sample means and the true population mean.
In practice, the standard error is often used to calculate confidence intervals and perform hypothesis testing to assess the significance of the treatment effect. A smaller standard error indicates greater precision in the estimation of the population mean and a greater ability to detect a significant difference between treatment groups.