Assessing the representativeness of cluster randomized trials: Evidence from two large pragmatic trials in United States nursing homes

Clin Trials. 2023 Dec;20(6):613-623. doi: 10.1177/17407745231185055. Epub 2023 Jul 26.

Abstract

Background/aims: When the randomized clusters in a cluster randomized trial are selected based on characteristics that influence treatment effectiveness, results from the trial may not be directly applicable to the target population. We used data from two large nursing home-based pragmatic cluster randomized trials to compare nursing home and resident characteristics in randomized facilities to eligible non-randomized and ineligible facilities.

Methods: We linked data from the high-dose influenza vaccine trial and the Music & Memory Pragmatic TRIal for Nursing Home Residents with ALzheimer's Disease (METRICaL) to nursing home assessments and Medicare fee-for-service claims. The target population for the high-dose trial comprised Medicare-certified nursing homes; the target population for the METRICaL trial comprised nursing homes in one of four US-based nursing home chains. We used standardized mean differences to compare facility and individual characteristics across the three groups and logistic regression to model the probability of nursing home trial participation.

Results: In the high-dose trial, 4476 (29%) of the 15,502 nursing homes in the target population were eligible for the trial, of which 818 (18%) were randomized. Of the 1,361,122 residents, 91,179 (6.7%) were residents of randomized facilities, 463,703 (34.0%) of eligible non-randomized facilities, and 806,205 (59.3%) of ineligible facilities. In the METRICaL trial, 160 (59%) of the 270 nursing homes in the target population were eligible for the trial, of which 80 (50%) were randomized. Of the 20,262 residents, 973 (34.4%) were residents of randomized facilities, 7431 (36.7%) of eligible non-randomized facilities, and 5858 (28.9%) of ineligible facilities. In the high-dose trial, randomized facilities differed from eligible non-randomized and ineligible facilities by the number of beds (132.5 vs 145.9 and 91.9, respectively), for-profit status (91.8% vs 66.8% and 68.8%), belonging to a nursing home chain (85.8% vs 49.9% and 54.7%), and presence of a special care unit (19.8% vs 25.9% and 14.4%). In the METRICaL trial randomized facilities differed from eligible non-randomized and ineligible facilities by the number of beds (103.7 vs 110.5 and 67.0), resource-poor status (4.6% vs 10.0% and 18.8%), and presence of a special care unit (26.3% vs 33.8% and 10.9%). In both trials, the characteristics of residents in randomized facilities were similar across the three groups.

Conclusion: In both trials, facility-level characteristics of randomized nursing homes differed considerably from those of eligible non-randomized and ineligible facilities, while there was little difference in resident-level characteristics across the three groups. Investigators should assess the characteristics of clusters that participate in cluster randomized trials, not just the individuals within the clusters, when examining the applicability of trial results beyond participating clusters.

Keywords: Medicare; Nursing home; dementia; generalizability; influenza.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Humans
  • Influenza Vaccines*
  • Influenza, Human*
  • Medicare
  • Nursing Homes
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • United States

Substances

  • Influenza Vaccines