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BMC medical research methodology

A systematic review of cluster randomised trials in residential facilities for older people suggests how to improve quality.


PMID 24148859

Abstract

Previous reviews of cluster randomised trials have been critical of the quality of the trials reviewed, but none has explored determinants of the quality of these trials in a specific field over an extended period of time. Recent work suggests that correct conduct and reporting of these trials may require more than published guidelines. In this review, our aim was to assess the quality of cluster randomised trials conducted in residential facilities for older people, and to determine whether (1) statistician involvement in the trial and (2) strength of journal endorsement of the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) statement influence quality. We systematically identified trials randomising residential facilities for older people, or parts thereof, without language restrictions, up to the end of 2010, using National Library of Medicine (Medline) via PubMed and hand-searching. We based quality assessment criteria largely on the extended CONSORT statement for cluster randomised trials. We assessed statistician involvement based on statistician co-authorship, and strength of journal endorsement of the CONSORT statement from journal websites. 73 trials met our inclusion criteria. Of these, 20 (27%) reported accounting for clustering in sample size calculations and 54 (74%) in the analyses. In 29 trials (40%), methods used to identify/recruit participants were judged by us to have potentially caused bias or reporting was unclear to reach a conclusion. Some elements of quality improved over time but this appeared not to be related to the publication of the extended CONSORT statement for these trials. Trials with statistician/epidemiologist co-authors were more likely to account for clustering in sample size calculations (unadjusted odds ratio 5.4, 95% confidence interval 1.1 to 26.0) and analyses (unadjusted OR 3.2, 1.2 to 8.5). Journal endorsement of the CONSORT statement was not associated with trial quality. Despite international attempts to improve methods in cluster randomised trials, important quality limitations remain amongst these trials in residential facilities. Statistician involvement on trial teams may be more effective in promoting quality than further journal endorsement of the CONSORT statement. Funding bodies and journals should promote statistician involvement and co-authorship in addition to adherence to CONSORT guidelines.

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