Qualitative research to inform hypothesis testing for fidelity-based sub-group analysis in clinical trials: lessons learnt from the process evaluation of a multifaceted podiatry intervention for falls prevention

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Background: Ensuring fidelity to complex interventions is a challenge when conducting pragmatic randomised controlled trials. We explore fidelity through a qualitative process evaluation, which was conducted alongside a pragmatic, multicentre, two-arm cohort randomised controlled trial: the REFORM (Reducing Falls with Orthoses and a Multifaceted podiatry intervention) trial. The paper aims, through a qualitative process evaluation, to explore some of the factors that may have affected the delivery of the REFORM intervention and highlight how project-specific fidelity can be assessed using a truly mixed-methods approach when informed by qualitative insights.

Design: Semi-structured qualitative interviews carried out as part of a process evaluation. Interviews were analysed thematically.

Setting: Seven NHS trusts in the UK and a University podiatry school in Ireland. Interviews were undertaken face-toface or over the telephone.

Participants: Twenty-one REFORM trial participants and 14 podiatrists who delivered the REFORM intervention.

Results: Factors affecting fidelity included: how similar the intervention was to routine practice; the challenges of delivering a multifaceted intervention to a heterogeneous older population; and practical issues with delivery
such as time and training. Trial participants’ views of the intervention, whether falls prevention is a personal priority, their experience of being part of a trial and individual factors such as medical conditions may also have
affected intervention fidelity.

Conclusions: Our process evaluation highlighted factors that were perceived to have affected the fidelity of the REFORM intervention and in doing so demonstrates the importance of considering fidelity when designing and
evaluating pragmatic trials. We propose a number of recommendations of how important project-specific insights from qualitative work can be incorporated into the design of fidelity measurement of future trials, which build on
existing conceptual fidelity frameworks. In particular, we encourage adopting a mixed-methods approach whereby qualitative insights can be used to suggest ways to enhance quantitative data collection facilitating integration through
hypothesis generation, hypothesis testing and seeking explanation for trial findings. This will provide a framework of enabling measures of fidelity to be incorporated into the understanding of trial results which has been relatively neglected by existing literature.

Trial registration: ISRCTN Registry: ISRCTN68240461. Registered on 01/07/2011.

Keywords: Process evaluation, Randomised controlled trials, Fidelity, Mixed methods, Falls, Elderly, Ageing, Qualitative
Original languageEnglish
Article number348
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2020

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© The Author(s), 2020

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