Randomised trials comparing different healthcare settings: an exploratory review of the impact of pre-trial preferences on participation, and discussion of other methodological challenges

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BACKGROUND: We recently published a systematic review of different healthcare settings (such as outpatient, community or home) for administering intravenous chemotherapy, and concluded that performing conventionally designed randomised trials was difficult. The main problems were achieving adequate trial accrual rates and recruiting a study population which adequately represented the target population of interest. These issues stemmed from the fact that potential participants may have had pre-trial perceptions about the trial settings they may be allocated; such preferences will sometimes be strong enough for patients to decline an invitation to participate in a trial. A patient preference trial design (in which patients can choose, or be randomised to, an intervention) may have obviated these recruitment issues, although none of the trials used such a design.

METHODS: In order to gain a better understanding of the broader prevalence and extent of these preference issues (and any other methodological challenges), we undertook an exploratory review of settings trials in any area of healthcare treatment research. We searched The Cochrane Library and Google Scholar and used snowballing methods to identify trials comparing different healthcare settings.

RESULTS: Trial accrual was affected by patient preferences for a setting in 15 of the 16 identified studies; birth setting trials were the most markedly affected, with between 68 % and 85 % of eligible women declining to participate specifically because of preference for a particular healthcare setting. Recruitment into substance abuse and chemotherapy setting studies was also notably affected by preferences. Only four trials used a preference design: the proportion of eligible patients choosing to participate via a preference group ranged from between 33 % and 67 %.

CONCLUSIONS: In trials of healthcare settings, accrual may be seriously affected by patient preferences. The use of trial designs which incorporate a preference component should therefore strongly be considered. When designing such trials, investigators should consider settings to be complex interventions, which are likely to have linked components which may be difficult to control for. Careful thought is also needed regarding the choice of comparator settings and the most appropriate outcome measures to be used.

Original languageEnglish
Article number589
Number of pages8
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2016

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© 2016 The Author(s).

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