Inviting parents to take part in paediatric palliative care research: a mixed-methods examination of selection bias

Palliat Med. 2015 Mar;29(3):231-40. doi: 10.1177/0269216314560803. Epub 2014 Dec 17.


Background: Recruitment to paediatric palliative care research is challenging, with high rates of non-invitation of eligible families by clinicians. The impact on sample characteristics is unknown.

Aim: To investigate, using mixed methods, non-invitation of eligible families and ensuing selection bias in an interview study about parents' experiences of advance care planning (ACP).

Design: We examined differences between eligible families invited and not invited to participate by clinicians using (1) field notes of discussions with clinicians during the invitation phase and (2) anonymised information from the service's clinical database.

Setting: Families were eligible for the ACP study if their child was receiving care from a UK-based tertiary palliative care service (Group A; N = 519) or had died 6-10 months previously having received care from the service (Group B; N = 73).

Results: Rates of non-invitation to the ACP study were high. A total of 28 (5.4%) Group A families and 21 (28.8%) Group B families (p < 0.0005) were invited. Family-clinician relationship appeared to be a key factor associated qualitatively with invitation in both groups. In Group A, out-of-hours contact with family was statistically associated with invitation (adjusted odds ratio 5.46 (95% confidence interval 2.13-14.00); p < 0.0005). Qualitative findings also indicated that clinicians' perceptions of families' wellbeing, circumstances, characteristics, engagement with clinicians and anticipated reaction to invitation influenced invitation.

Conclusion: We found evidence of selective invitation practices that could bias research findings. Non-invitation and selection bias should be considered, assessed and reported in palliative care studies.

Keywords: Palliative care; child; paediatrics; patient selection; research design; selection bias.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Advance Care Planning
  • Biomedical Research* / organization & administration
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Community Participation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Palliative Care*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Patient Selection*
  • Research Design / standards*
  • Selection Bias
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult