International Journal of Statistics in Medical Research

The Method of Randomization for Cluster-Randomized Trials: Challenges of Including Patients with Multiple Chronic Conditions
Pages 2-7
Denise Esserman, Heather G. Allore and Thomas G. Travison
Published: 08 January 2016

Abstract: Cluster-randomized clinical trials (CRT) are trials in which the unit of randomization is not a participant but a group (e.g. healthcare systems or community centers). They are suitable when the intervention applies naturally to the cluster (e.g. healthcare policy); when lack of independence among participants may occur (e.g. nursing home hygiene); or when it is most ethical to apply an intervention to all within a group (e.g. school-level immunization). Because participants in the same cluster receive the same intervention, CRT may approximate clinical practice, and may produce generalizable findings. However, when not properly designed or interpreted, CRT may induce biased results.

CRT designs have features that add complexity to statistical estimation and inference. Chief among these is the cluster-level correlation in response measurements induced by the randomization. A critical consideration is the experimental unit of inference; often it is desirable to consider intervention effects at the level of the individual rather than the cluster. Finally, given that the number of clusters available may be limited, simple forms of randomization may not achieve balance between intervention and control arms at either the cluster- or participant-level.

In non-clustered clinical trials, balance of key factors may be easier to achieve because the sample can be homogenous by exclusion of participants with multiple chronic conditions (MCC). CRTs, which are often pragmatic, may eschew such restrictions. Failure to account for imbalance may induce bias and reducing validity. This article focuses on the complexities of randomization in the design of CRTs, such as the inclusion of patients with MCC, and imbalances in covariate factors across clusters.

Keywords: Experimental Design, Randomization, Cluster Randomized Trials, Multiple Chronic Conditions.
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