Pitfalls of and controversies in cluster randomization trials

Am J Public Health. 2004 Mar;94(3):416-22. doi: 10.2105/ajph.94.3.416.


It is now well known that standard statistical procedures become invalidated when applied to cluster randomized trials in which the unit of inference is the individual. A resulting consequence is that researchers conducting such trials are faced with a multitude of design choices, including selection of the primary unit of inference, the degree to which clusters should be matched or stratified by prognostic factors at baseline, and decisions related to cluster subsampling. Moreover, application of ethical principles developed for individually randomized trials may also require modification. We discuss several topics related to these issues, with emphasis on the choices that must be made in the planning stages of a trial and on some potential pitfalls to be avoided.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Cluster Analysis*
  • Epidemiologic Research Design*
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent
  • Models, Statistical
  • Public Health Practice*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / methods*
  • Sample Size