Cluster randomized trials in comparative effectiveness research: randomizing hospitals to test methods for prevention of healthcare-associated infections

Med Care. 2010 Jun;48(6 Suppl):S52-7. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e3181dbebcf.


Background: The need for evidence about the effectiveness of therapeutics and other medical practices has triggered new interest in methods for comparative effectiveness research.

Objective: Describe an approach to comparative effectiveness research involving cluster randomized trials in networks of hospitals, health plans, or medical practices with centralized administrative and informatics capabilities.

Research design: We discuss the example of an ongoing cluster randomized trial to prevent methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection in intensive care units (ICUs). The trial randomizes 45 hospitals to: (a) screening cultures of ICU admissions, followed by Contact Precautions if MRSA-positive, (b) screening cultures of ICU admissions followed by decolonization if MRSA-positive, or (c) universal decolonization of ICU admissions without screening.

Subjects: All admissions to adult ICUs.

Measures: The primary outcome is MRSA-positive clinical cultures occurring >or=2 days following ICU admission. Secondary outcomes include blood and urine infection caused by MRSA (and, separately, all pathogens), as well as the development of resistance to decolonizing agents.

Results: Recruitment of hospitals is complete. Data collection will end in Summer 2011.

Conclusions: This trial takes advantage of existing personnel, procedures, infrastructure, and information systems in a large integrated hospital network to conduct a low-cost evaluation of prevention strategies under usual practice conditions. This approach is applicable to many comparative effectiveness topics in both inpatient and ambulatory settings.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Comparative Effectiveness Research / methods*
  • Cross Infection / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Infection Control / methods*
  • Intensive Care Units / organization & administration*
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / methods*