Best practice guidance for the use of strategies to improve retention in randomized trials developed from two consensus workshops

J Clin Epidemiol. 2017 Aug:88:122-132. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2017.05.010. Epub 2017 May 22.


Objectives: To develop best practice guidance for the use of retention strategies in randomized clinical trials (RCTs).

Study design and setting: Consensus development workshops conducted at two UK Clinical Trials Units. Sixty-six statisticians, clinicians, RCT coordinators, research scientists, research assistants, and data managers associated with RCTs participated. The consensus development workshops were based on the consensus development conference method used to develop best practice for treatment of medical conditions. Workshops commenced with a presentation of the evidence for incentives, communication, questionnaire format, behavioral, case management, and methodological retention strategies identified by a Cochrane review and associated qualitative study. Three simultaneous group discussions followed focused on (1) how convinced the workshop participants were by the evidence for retention strategies, (2) barriers to the use of effective retention strategies, (3) types of RCT follow-up that retention strategies could be used for, and (4) strategies for future research. Summaries of each group discussion were fed back to the workshop. Coded content for both workshops was compared for agreement and disagreement. Agreed consensus on best practice guidance for retention was identified.

Results: Workshop participants agreed best practice guidance for the use of small financial incentives to improve response to postal questionnaires in RCTs. Use of second-class post was thought to be adequate for postal communication with RCT participants. The most relevant validated questionnaire was considered best practice for collecting RCT data. Barriers identified for the use of effective retention strategies were: the small improvements seen in questionnaire response for the addition of monetary incentives, and perceptions among trialists that some communication strategies are outdated. Furthermore, there was resistance to change existing retention practices thought to be effective. Face-to-face and electronic follow-up technologies were identified as retention strategies for further research.

Conclusions: We developed best practice guidance for the use of retention strategies in RCTs and identified potential barriers to the use of effective strategies. The extent of agreement on best practice is limited by the variability in the currently available evidence. This guidance will need updating as new retention strategies are developed and evaluated.

Keywords: Best practice guidance; Consensus development; Randomised trials; Strategies to improve retention; Workshops.

Publication types

  • Consensus Development Conference

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Education
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Patient Compliance / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Dropouts / statistics & numerical data*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Research Personnel*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom