Harriette G.C. Van Spall, MD, MPH, FRCPC
Associate Professor of Medicine
Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiology
Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact
Population Health Research Institute
Adapting Clinical Trial Design to Meet the Needs of Learning Health Systems
Learning health system; Pragmatic clinical trial; Patient-Centered Care Transitions in Heart Failure (PACT-HF); Heart failure; Stepped-wedge cluster trial
Characteristics of a learning health system include:
Possessing a culture of knowledge and quality improvement
Encouraging research innovation by embedding research into clinical practice and generating knowledge at the point of care
Harnessing data from electronic health records and claims/administrative databases
Fostering trust between research and clinical teams
Engaging patients, clinicians, and key stakeholders
The Patient-Centered Care Transitions in Heart Failure (PACT-HF) trial evaluated the effectiveness of a group of transitional care services in patients hospitalized for HF within a publicly funded healthcare system.
Challenges of a learning health system include integrating care, intervention, and communications across silos; streamlining workflow; preventing “contamination” of usual care; and the limited interoperability of EHRs and slow updates to claims/administrative datasets.
Efficacy in explanatory randomized clinical trials (RCTs) does not equate to effectiveness in real-world settings.
Decisions about implementation of an intervention are not made “live”; you must wait until the study has ended, all the data are available for analysis, and analysis is complete before you can inform decision-maker partners about the risks and benefits of the intervention.
The TSOS Demonstration Project is a cluster-randomized, stepped-wedge trial conducted at 25 U.S. trauma centers. The intervention involves an electronic health record PTSD screen and a baseline PTSD and comorbidity assessment. TSOS is turned on at each site across 4 “waves.”
During the course of this hybrid effectiveness-implementation trial, two domains on PRECIS-2 (Pragmatic-Explanatory Continuum Indicator Summary) were scored as more pragmatic and one domain as more explanatory than at the outset of the study.
The study team developed a methodology for assessing TSOS implementation aims. Called RAPICE (Rapid Assessment Procedure Informed Clinical Ethnography), the method yielded findings around recurrent intervention and research staff turnover across sites; observations that some patients do not engage in the intervention; and ways to inform a priori secondary hypotheses that suggest per-protocol modifications to the original intention-to-treat analyses.
TSOS will present results at the 2020 summit of the American College of Surgeons with the potential to integrate findings into the College’s regulatory and verification processes.
Regarding the need to collect outcome data, there may be an important distinction between two aspects of “pragmatic.” That is, while collecting outcome data makes a trial more expensive (one aspect of pragmatic), it doesn’t necessarily affect relevance or generalizability (another, more important, aspect of pragmatic).
Might there be studies which, by design, are not aiming to be on the outer [more pragmatic] spokes of the PRECIS-2 wheel?
The Active Bathing to Eliminate (ABATE) Infection trial compared routine bathing to decolonization with universal chlorhexidine and targeted nasal mupirocin in non-critical-care units. Similar interventions have been found to reduce multidrug-resistant pathogens and bloodstream infections in intensive care units (ICUs), and this was the first large-scale trial in non-critical-care units. The primary outcome was methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE) clinical cultures attributed to participating units.
“We found that universal decolonization did not reduce infection in the overall population, but in post-hoc analyses of patients with medical devices the regimen was associated with significant reductions in all-cause bloodstream infections and MRSA or VRE clinical cultures.” —Huang et al. The Lancet 2019
The ABATE Infection trial was a large-scale pragmatic trial involving approximately189,000 patients in the baseline period and 340,000 patients in the intervention period across 194 non-critical-care units in 53 hospitals. The trial was one of the first NIH Collaboratory Demonstration Projects, and in keeping with the Collaboratory’s mission, the investigators have helped expand the knowledge base about the design, conduct, and dissemination of pragmatic clinical trials.
James Tulsky, MD
Chair, Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Chief, Division of Palliative Medicine
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Angelo Volandes, MD, MPH
Associate Professor of Medicine
Massachusetts General Hospital
Harvard Medical School
Promoting Effective Advance Care Planning Communication in the Elderly: The ACP-PEACE Trial
Pragmatic clinical trial; Advance care planning; ACP PEACE; Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; National Institute on Aging; Palliative care; Video declarations; Goal-concordant care; Patient preferences
Many people with serious illness die without receiving goal-concordant care, and patients over the age of 65 with cancer experience this disproportionately. Helping patients engage in advance care planning (ACP) can empower them to express and record their goals so that their care can be aligned with their preferences.
The ACP PEACE Demonstration Project is a pragmatic, stepped-wedge, randomized trial of a comprehensive ACP program in oncology clinics at 3 health systems. It will involve a combination of 2 evidence-based programs:
VitalTalk teaches clinicians important communication skills in having empathic conversations with seriously ill patients.
ACP Decisions uses videos to promote planning and decision-making by patients and families.
The ACP PEACE study will monitor long-term outcomes to evaluate whether patients received the care they planned for and wanted.
The last element of the ACP PEACE trial is a video declaration (ViDec), recorded by a subset of patients. In recording the ViDec, patients are prompted by questions assessing their confidence with their decision, satisfaction, decisional regret, and patient-provider experience.
The ACP PEACE study team has a scaling strategy in place if the intervention proves effective. Implementing the intervention as standard of care will involve a culture shift from what is currently expected in health systems.
The NIH Collaboratory is pleased to announce the availability of a new self-paced, 10-module introductory course on how to design, conduct, and disseminate embedded PCTs (ePCTs). This course presents condensed material from the inaugural ePCT Training Workshop held in 2018 and provides users with important things to know and do when designing an ePCT, along with helpful links to additional learning resources within the Living Textbook.
Niteesh K. Choudhry, MD, PhD
Professor, Harvard Medical School
Executive Director, Center for Healthcare Delivery Sciences, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Cluster Randomized Trials in Health Care Delivery Systems: Lessons from STIC2IT
STIC2IT; Pragmatic clinical trial; Learning health system; Cluster randomization; Medication adherence; Telepharmacy; Electronic health record; Stakeholder engagement
STIC2IT, a pragmatic, cluster-randomized trial, evaluated a telepharmacy intervention to improve medication adherence for people with chronic diseases.
Pragmatic aspects of STIC2IT included outcomes assessed using routinely collected data, cluster randomization by physician practice, intention-to-treat analysis, and use of the EHR to collect research data.
While medication adherence did improve in the STIC2IT intervention group, secondary clinical outcomes did not improve. Future trials within health systems should incorporate multilevel engagement across the health system, physicians and staff, and patients.
It is important to do ongoing outreach at the health system leadership level to ensure understanding and commitment to the study and keep providers aware of the trial. Study teams should be mindful of the priorities of their partner health system.
Using the EHR for research data required some upfront work building special modules and generating custom reports.
In a new video, Dr. Greg Simon explains the intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) with an analogy to a pie eating contest. The ICC is a descriptive statistic that measures the correlations among members of a group, and it is an important tool for cluster-randomized pragmatic trials because this calculation helps determine the sample size needed to detect an effect.
“When we randomize treatments by doctors, clinics, or even whole health systems, we need to think about how things cluster, and the intraclass correlation coefficient is the measure of that clustering. When we think about sample sizes in pragmatic clinical trials, it’s important to understand what an intraclass correlation coefficient actually is.”
For most pragmatic trials, the ICC will be between 0 and 1. If the outcomes in a group are completely correlated (ICC=1), then all participants within the group are likely to have the same outcome. When ICC=1, sampling one participant from the cluster is as informative as sampling the whole cluster, and many clusters will be needed to detect an effect. If there is no correlation among members of the groups (ICC=0), then the available sample size for the study is essentially the number of participants.
Kidney transplantation is the preferred treatment for patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD), but an insufficient organ supply renders dialysis the only viable treatment option for most patients. Though clinical outcomes among patients receiving dialysis have improved modestly in recent years, annual rates of hospitalization and mortality remain unacceptably high, and quality of life is poor. Poor outcomes are driven primarily by increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), but interventions that improve outcomes in the general population by targeting traditional CVD risk factors have mostly failed in patients with ESRD. Current clinical practice guidelines advocate aggressive treatment of high serum phosphate to near-normal levels using dietary phosphate binders and restrictive diets. The benefits of this approach, however, are unproven, the optimal serum phosphate target remains unknown, and potential harms of aggressive treatment have not been definitively identified.
“The question at hand is something we grapple with on a daily basis in every dialysis facility across the country. Either answer will be important new information that will help us do a better job taking care of patients and hopefully improve their quality of life.”
HiLo is led by Myles Wolf, MD, of Duke University with support from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Read more about HiLo.
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.
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.
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.