Background: Determination of comparative effectiveness in a randomized controlled trial requires consideration of an intervention's comparative uptake (or acceptance) among randomized participants and the intervention's comparative efficacy among participants who use their assigned intervention. If acceptance differs across interventions, then simple randomization of participants can result in post-randomization losses that introduce bias and limit statistical power.
Methods: We develop a novel preference-adaptive randomization procedure in which the allocation probabilities are updated based on the inverse of the relative acceptance rates among randomized participants in each arm. In simulation studies, we determine the optimal frequency with which to update the allocation probabilities based on the number of participants randomized. We illustrate the development and application of preference-adaptive randomization using a randomized controlled trial comparing the effectiveness of different financial incentive structures on prolonged smoking cessation.
Results: Simulation studies indicated that preference-adaptive randomization performed best with frequent updating, accommodated differences in acceptance across arms, and performed well even if the initial values for the allocation probabilities were not equal to their true values. Updating the allocation probabilities after randomizing each participant minimized imbalances in the number of accepting participants across arms over time. In the smoking cessation trial, unexpectedly large differences in acceptance among arms required us to limit the allocation of participants to less acceptable interventions. Nonetheless, the procedure achieved equal numbers of accepting participants in the more acceptable arms, and balanced the characteristics of participants across assigned interventions.
Conclusions: Preference-adaptive randomization, coupled with analysis methods based on instrumental variables, can enhance the validity and generalizability of comparative effectiveness studies. In particular, preference-adaptive randomization augments statistical power by maintaining balanced sample sizes in efficacy analyses, while retaining the ability of randomization to balance covariates across arms in effectiveness analyses.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT01526265; 31 January 2012.