January 19, 2018: New Research Methods Resources Website on Group- or Cluster-Randomized Studies

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Extramural Research has released new clinical trial requirements for grant applications and contract proposals due on or after January 25, 2018. In anticipation of these new requirements, the NIH modified the Application Guide and the Review Criteria to address methodological problems common to many clinical trials. As group- or cluster-randomization designs are increasingly common in both basic and applied research, the new Application Guide includes links to the new Research Methods Resources website, which provides resources for investigators considering these group- or cluster-randomized designs, including lists of NIH webinars, key references, and statements to help investigators prepare sound applications and avoid methodological pitfalls.

December 7, 2017: Dr. Greg Simon Explains Individual, Cluster, and Stepped-Wedge Randomization in a New Prop Video

In a new video in the Living Textbook, Dr. Greg Simon describes the differences between individual, cluster, and stepped-wedge randomization using props, including marbles, Play-Doh, and glassware.

“In the end, it’s all about randomly assigning who gets which treatment, or who gets which treatment when, so that we’re able to make some un-biased judgement about which treatment is really better.” —Greg Simon, MD

November 3, 2017: Dr. Miguel Vazquez Shares Lessons From the Improving Chronic Disease Management with Pieces (ICD-Pieces) Trial

In this interview, Dr. Miguel Vazquez gives an update on the first years of the Improving Chronic Disease Management with Pieces (ICD-Pieces) trial. Dr. Vazquez discussed the status of his trial, challenges and surprises, and advice he has for new investigators.

“Try to really learn from others who have done this—even if you are the first one doing your specific trial with your specific questions. It was helpful for us to learn from the other Collaboratory projects; they had already faced some problems, and we were able to anticipate and develop solutions proactively.” – Dr. Miguel Vazquez

Read more from Dr. Vazquez in the full interview (PDF).

October 27, 2017: Dr. Doug Zatzick Shares Lessons From the Trauma Survivors Outcomes and Support (TSOS) Trial

In this interview, Dr. Doug Zatzick gives an update on the first years of the Trauma Survivors Outcomes and Support (TSOS) trial. Dr. Zatzick discussed the status of his trial, challenges and surprises, and advice he has for new investigators.

Dr. Zatzick’s advice: “Embed implementation teams within embedded trials. The bottom line is, go to the sites, do training at the sites and with the team, and take field notes in real time. ”

Read more from Dr. Zatzick in the full interview.

October 20, 2017: Dr. Vincent Mor Shares Lessons From the Pragmatic Trial of Video Education in Nursing Homes (PROVEN) Trial

In this interview, Dr. Vincent Mor gives an update on the first years of the Pragmatic Trial of Video Education in Nursing Homes (PROVEN) project. Dr. Mor discussed the status of his trial, challenges and surprises, and advice he has for new investigators.

Dr. Mor’s advice: “The health care system must agree that the outcome your intervention is seeking to achieve is consistent with their mission. Your outcome goal should be something they care about.”

Read more from Dr. Mor in the full interview.

October 18, 2017: NIH Collaboratory Core Working Group Interviews: Reflections from the Biostatistics and Study Design Core

We recently asked Dr. Liz DeLong, Chair of the Biostatistics and Study Design Core, to reflect on the first 5 years of the Core’s work and the challenges ahead. She says the biggest impact of the Core has been working with the individual Demonstration Projects to provide a sounding board to discuss statistical challenges. Further, Core members have contributed to new knowledge through manuscripts that address key methodological issues related to pragmatic clinical trials. She’s hoping the Core will continue to push the boundaries of statistical methods in the coming years.

“The statisticians on the individual trials have not only developed excellent statistical methods for their own studies, but also contributed substantively to the Core.” Dr. Liz DeLong

Download the interview (PDF).

Active Bathing to Eliminate (ABATE) Infection Trial Completes Intervention Phase

The Active Bathing to Eliminate (ABATE) Infection trial (ClinicalTrials.gov #NCT02063867) has completed its intervention phase—the first NIH Health Care Systems Research Collaboratory UH3 Demonstration Project to reach this major milestone. The large-scale, cluster-randomized pragmatic clinical trial (PCT) was designed to assess an approach for reducing multidrug-resistant organisms and hospital-associated infections (HAIs) in nearly 200 non-critical care hospital units affiliated with Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) across the United States.

Susan Huang, MD, MPH
ABATE study PI Dr. Susan Huang

The ABATE study is led by principal investigator Dr. Susan Huang of the University of California, Irvine, who stated “We are elated to reach the successful completion of the trial thanks to an incredible investigative team at HCA, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Rush University, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and UC Irvine. We look forward to what the trial data will tell us and hope that we can continue to find effective ways to protect patients from infection.”

In the ABATE study, patients hospitalized in non-critical care units were bathed either according to the hospital unit’s usual care procedures (the control group) or bathed with the topical antibacterial agent chlorhexidine (plus nasal administration of the antibiotic mupirocin for those patients who were colonized or infected with, or had a history of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus [MRSA] [the intervention group]). The study investigators will compare the number of unit-attributable, multidrug-resistant organisms in clinical cultures between the study arms; these organisms include vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), MRSA, and gram-negative bacteria. In addition, the investigators will compare the number of unit-attributable infections in the bloodstream and urinary tract (all pathogens) and Clostridium difficile infections. Cultures were collected at baseline and post intervention and will be assessed to determine whether resistance emerged to decolonization products.

“We are elated to reach the successful completion of the trial thanks to an incredible investigative team at HCA, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Rush University, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and UC Irvine.We look forward to what the trial data will tell us and hope that we can continue to find effective ways to protect patients from infection.”

Healthcare-associated infections caused by common bacteria, including MRSA and VRE, are a leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States and are associated with upward of $6.5 billion in annual healthcare costs. Although these bacteria normally live on the skin or in the nose, under certain circumstances they can cause serious or even life-threatening infections. Hospitalized patients who are ill or who have weakened immune systems are especially at risk for such infections. Because these pathogens are resistant to many antibiotics, they can be difficult to treat.

In intensive care units (ICUs), reducing the amount of such bacteria (a process referred to as decolonization) by treating patients’ skin with chlorhexidine and their noses with mupirocin ointment has been shown to reduce MRSA infections and all-cause bacteremias. However, relatively little is known about the effects of decolonization in hospital settings outside of critical care units, although this is where the majority of such infections occur. The ABATE trial, in contrast, is testing its bathing and decolonization strategy in adult medical, surgical, oncology, and step-down units (pediatric, psychology, peri-partum, and bone marrow transplantation units were excluded).

Over the course of the study, more than a million showers and baths were taken, and all sites have completed the intervention. The next steps for the ABATE investigators are to finish strain collection over the coming weeks, and then clean, validate, and analyze the data over the coming months.

Resources: NIH Health Care Systems Collaboratory Demonstration Project. Active Bathing to Eliminate (ABATE) Infection trial. 2014. Available at: https://www.nihcollaboratory.org/demonstration-projects/Pages/ABATE.aspx. Accessed February 2, 2015.

Huang SS, Septimus E, Moody J, et al. Randomized Evaluation of Decolonization vs. Universal Clearance to Eliminate Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus in ICUs (REDUCE MRSA Trial). 2012. Available at: https://idsa.confex.com/idsa/2012/webprogram/Paper36049.html. Accessed December 15, 1024.

Huang SS, Septimus E, Kleinman K, et al. Targeted versus universal decolonization to prevent ICU infection. N Engl J Med 2013;368:2255–2265. PMID: 23718152. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1207290.

STOP CRC Trial: Analytic Challenges and Pragmatic Solutions

Investigators from the STOP CRC pragmatic trial, an NIH Collaboratory Demonstration Project, have recently published an article in the journal eGEMs describing solutions to issues that arose in the trial’s implementation phase. STOP CRC tests a program to improve colorectal cancer screening rates in a collaborative network of Federally Qualified Health Centers by mailing fecal immunochemical testing (FIT) kits to screen-eligible patients at clinics in the intervention arm. Clinics in the control arm provided opportunistic colorectal-cancer screening to patients at clinic visits in Year 1 and implemented the intervention in Year 2. In this cluster-randomized trial, clinics are the unit of analysis, rather than individual patients, with the primary outcome being the proportion of screen-eligible patients at each clinic who complete a FIT.

The team dealt with various challenges that threatened the validity of their primary analysis, one of which related to potential contamination of the primary outcome due to the timing of the intervention rollout: for control participants, the Year 2 intervention actively overlapped with the Year 1 control measurements. The other challenge was due to a lack of synchronization between the measurement and accrual windows. To deal with these issues, the team had to slightly modify the study design in addition to developing a few sensitivity analyses to better estimate the true impact of the intervention.

“While the nature of the challenges we encountered are not unique to pragmatic trials, we believe they are likely to be more common in such trials due to both the types of designs commonly used in such studies and the challenges of implementing system-based interventions within freestanding health clinics.” (Vollmer et al. eGEMs 2015)

The Publish EDM Forum Community publishes eGEMs (generating evidence & methods to improve patient outcomes) and provides free and open access to this methods case study. Readers can access the article here.

Study Design of LIRE Pragmatic Trial Published

Picture of Jerry Jarvik, MD, MPH
Jerry Jarvik, MD, MPH, Principal Investigator, LIRE Trial

Dr. Jerry Jarvik and colleagues have published an article in Contemporary Clinical Trials describing the design of the Lumbar Imaging With Reporting of Epidemiology (LIRE) pragmatic cluster randomized trial. LIRE is one of the NIH Collaboratory’s pragmatic clinical trial Demonstration Projects, which are intended to help establish proof of concept for pragmatic trial designs.

LIRE is studying the effect of inserting epidemiologic benchmarks for common imaging findings into lumbar spine imaging reports being delivered to primary care physicians. The primary goal is to measure whether the intervention reduces subsequent spine-related tests and treatments. All outcomes are captured passively through the electronic health record. The authors state that if successful, such a low-cost intervention could potentially be applied to diagnostic tests for other conditions. LIRE has a projected sample size of more than 160,000 patients across an estimated >2000 primary care physicians at 4 health systems. Enrollment will continue through 2016.

“LIRE is a pragmatic cluster randomized trial of a minimal-risk intervention that we believe can serve as a model for future pragmatic trials.”
(Jarvik JG, et al. Contemp Clin Trials 2015)

New Biostatistical Guidance Document Available: Small-Sample Robust Variance Correction for GEE

Tools for ResearchThe NIH Collaboratory’s Biostatistics and Study Design Core has just published a new guidance document by Andrea Cook, PhD, of the Group Health Research Institute, on using small-sample robust variance correction for generalized estimating equations (GEE) for use in cluster-randomized trials. The document, which includes guidance on methods available in the SAS and Stata statistical analysis packages, is available directly from the NIH Collaboratory Knowledge Repository here (opens as PDF), or via the Biostatistical Guidance Documents page in the Living Textbook.

This guidance document is one in a series of research tools focused on detailed aspects of statistical design for conducting pragmatic clinical trials. Each document in this series provides a synthesis of current developments, discusses possible future directions, and, where appropriate, makes recommendations for application to pragmatic clinical research.