What's the uptake? Pragmatic RCTs may be used to estimate uptake, and thereby population impact of interventions, but better reporting of trial recruitment processes is needed

BMC Med Res Methodol. 2017 Dec 22;17(1):174. doi: 10.1186/s12874-017-0443-0.


Background: Effectiveness of interventions in pragmatic trials may not translate directly into population impact, because of limited uptake by clinicians and/or the public. Uptake of an intervention is influenced by a number of factors.

Methods: We propose a method for calculating population impact of clinical interventions that accounts for the intervention uptake. We suggest that population impact may be estimated by multiplying the two key components: (1) the effectiveness of the intervention in pragmatic trials (trial effect); and, (2) its uptake in clinical practice. We argue that participation rates in trials may be a valid proxy for uptake in clinical practice and, in combination with trial effectiveness estimates, be used to rank interventions by their likely population impact. We illustrate the method using the example of four interventions to decrease antibiotic prescription for acute respiratory infections in primary care: delayed prescribing, procalcitonin test, C-Reactive Protein, shared decision making.

Results: In order to estimate uptake of interventions from trial data we need detailed reporting on the recruitment processes used for clinician participation in the trials. In the antibiotic prescribing example, between 75 and 91% of the population would still be prescribed or consume antibiotics because effective interventions were not taken up. Of the four interventions considered, we found that delayed prescribing would have the highest population impact and shared decision making the lowest.

Conclusion: Estimates of uptake and population impact of an intervention may be possible from pragmatic RCTs, provided the recruitment processes for these trials are adequately reported (which currently few of them are). Further validation of this method using empirical data on intervention uptake in the real world would support use of this method to decide on public funding of interventions.

Keywords: Drug resistance, microbial; Health policy; Methods; Pragmatic clinical trial; Primary health care; Public health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • C-Reactive Protein / analysis
  • Calcitonin / analysis
  • Communication
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care / methods*
  • Patient Participation*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Pragmatic Clinical Trials as Topic / methods*
  • Primary Health Care / methods
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / drug therapy
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / pathology
  • Time Factors


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Calcitonin
  • C-Reactive Protein