Researchers' experiences of the design and conduct challenges associated with parallel-group cluster-randomised trials and views on a novel open-cohort design

Claire A Surr*, Laura Marsden, Alys Griffiths, Sharon Cox, Jane Fossey, Adam Martin, Toby Prevost, Catherine Walshe, Rebecca Walwyn

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Two accepted designs exist for parallel-group cluster-randomised trials (CRTs). Closed-cohort designs follow the same individuals over time with a single recruitment period before randomisation, but face challenges in settings with high attrition. (Repeated) cross-sectional designs recruit at one or more timepoints before and/or after randomisation, collecting data from different individuals present in the cluster at these timepoints, but are unsuitable for assessment of individual change over time. An 'open-cohort' design allows individual follow-up with recruitment before and after cluster-randomisation, but little literature exists on acceptability to inform their use in CRTs. AIM: To document the views and experiences of expert trialists to identify: a) Design and conduct challenges with established parallel-group CRT designs,b) Perceptions of potential benefits and barriers to implementation of open-cohort CRTs,c) Methods for minimising, and investigating the impact of, bias in open-cohort CRTs. METHODS: Qualitative consultation via two expert workshops including triallists (n = 24) who had worked on CRTs over a range of settings. Workshop transcripts were analysed using Descriptive Thematic Analysis utilising inductive and deductive coding. RESULTS: Two central organising concepts were developed. Design and conduct challenges with established CRT designs confirmed that current CRT designs are unable to deal with many of the complex research and intervention circumstances found in some trial settings (e.g. care homes). Perceptions of potential benefits and barriers of open cohort designs included themes on: approaches to recruitment; data collection; analysis; minimising/investigating the impact of bias; and how open-cohort designs might address or present CRT design challenges. Open-cohort designs were felt to provide a solution for some of the challenges current CRT designs present in some settings. CONCLUSIONS: Open-cohort CRT designs hold promise for addressing the challenges associated with standard CRT designs. Research is needed to provide clarity around definition and guidance on application.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0297184
Pages (from-to)e0297184
Number of pages21
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume19
Issue number2 February
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2024

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