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1.  When is informed consent required in cluster randomized trials in health research? 
Trials  2011;12:202.
This article is part of a series of papers examining ethical issues in cluster randomized trials (CRTs) in health research. In the introductory paper in this series, we set out six areas of inquiry that must be addressed if the cluster trial is to be set on a firm ethical foundation. This paper addresses the second of the questions posed, namely, from whom, when, and how must informed consent be obtained in CRTs in health research? The ethical principle of respect for persons implies that researchers are generally obligated to obtain the informed consent of research subjects. Aspects of CRT design, including cluster randomization, cluster level interventions, and cluster size, present challenges to obtaining informed consent. Here we address five questions related to consent and CRTs: How can a study proceed if informed consent is not possible? Is consent to randomization always required? What information must be disclosed to potential subjects if their cluster has already been randomized? Is passive consent a valid substitute for informed consent? Do health professionals have a moral obligation to participate as subjects in CRTs designed to improve professional practice?
We set out a framework based on the moral foundations of informed consent and international regulatory provisions to address each of these questions. First, when informed consent is not possible, a study may proceed if a research ethics committee is satisfied that conditions for a waiver of consent are satisfied. Second, informed consent to randomization may not be required if it is not possible to approach subjects at the time of randomization. Third, when potential subjects are approached after cluster randomization, they must be provided with a detailed description of the interventions in the trial arm to which their cluster has been randomized; detailed information on interventions in other trial arms need not be provided. Fourth, while passive consent may serve a variety of practical ends, it is not a substitute for valid informed consent. Fifth, while health professionals may have a moral obligation to participate as subjects in research, this does not diminish the necessity of informed consent to study participation.
PMCID: PMC3184061  PMID: 21906277
2.  Ethical issues posed by cluster randomized trials in health research 
Trials  2011;12:100.
The cluster randomized trial (CRT) is used increasingly in knowledge translation research, quality improvement research, community based intervention studies, public health research, and research in developing countries. However, cluster trials raise difficult ethical issues that challenge researchers, research ethics committees, regulators, and sponsors as they seek to fulfill responsibly their respective roles. Our project will provide a systematic analysis of the ethics of cluster trials. Here we have outlined a series of six areas of inquiry that must be addressed if the cluster trial is to be set on a firm ethical foundation:
1. Who is a research subject?
2. From whom, how, and when must informed consent be obtained?
3. Does clinical equipoise apply to CRTs?
4. How do we determine if the benefits outweigh the risks of CRTs?
5. How ought vulnerable groups be protected in CRTs?
6. Who are gatekeepers and what are their responsibilities?
Subsequent papers in this series will address each of these areas, clarifying the ethical issues at stake and, where possible, arguing for a preferred solution. Our hope is that these papers will serve as the basis for the creation of international ethical guidelines for the design and conduct of cluster randomized trials.
PMCID: PMC3107798  PMID: 21507237
3.  Who is the research subject in cluster randomized trials in health research? 
Trials  2011;12:183.
This article is part of a series of papers examining ethical issues in cluster randomized trials (CRTs) in health research. In the introductory paper in this series, we set out six areas of inquiry that must be addressed if the CRT is to be set on a firm ethical foundation. This paper addresses the first of the questions posed, namely, who is the research subject in a CRT in health research? The identification of human research subjects is logically prior to the application of protections as set out in research ethics and regulation. Aspects of CRT design, including the fact that in a single study the units of randomization, experimentation, and observation may differ, complicate the identification of human research subjects. But the proper identification of human research subjects is important if they are to be protected from harm and exploitation, and if research ethics committees are to review CRTs efficiently.
We examine the research ethics literature and international regulations to identify the core features of human research subjects, and then unify these features under a single, comprehensive definition of human research subject. We define a human research subject as any person whose interests may be compromised as a result of interventions in a research study. Individuals are only human research subjects in CRTs if: (1) they are directly intervened upon by investigators; (2) they interact with investigators; (3) they are deliberately intervened upon via a manipulation of their environment that may compromise their interests; or (4) their identifiable private information is used to generate data. Individuals who are indirectly affected by CRT study interventions, including patients of healthcare providers participating in knowledge translation CRTs, are not human research subjects unless at least one of these conditions is met.
PMCID: PMC3162904  PMID: 21791064
4.  Does clinical equipoise apply to cluster randomized trials in health research? 
Trials  2011;12:118.
This article is part of a series of papers examining ethical issues in cluster randomized trials (CRTs) in health research. In the introductory paper in this series, Weijer and colleagues set out six areas of inquiry that must be addressed if the cluster trial is to be set on a firm ethical foundation. This paper addresses the third of the questions posed, namely, does clinical equipoise apply to CRTs in health research? The ethical principle of beneficence is the moral obligation not to harm needlessly and, when possible, to promote the welfare of research subjects. Two related ethical problems have been discussed in the CRT literature. First, are control groups that receive only usual care unduly disadvantaged? Second, when accumulating data suggests the superiority of one intervention in a trial, is there an ethical obligation to act?
In individually randomized trials involving patients, similar questions are addressed by the concept of clinical equipoise, that is, the ethical requirement that, at the start of a trial, there be a state of honest, professional disagreement in the community of expert practitioners as to the preferred treatment. Since CRTs may not involve physician-researchers and patient-subjects, the applicability of clinical equipoise to CRTs is uncertain. Here we argue that clinical equipoise may be usefully grounded in a trust relationship between the state and research subjects, and, as a result, clinical equipoise is applicable to CRTs. Clinical equipoise is used to argue that control groups receiving only usual care are not disadvantaged so long as the evidence supporting the experimental and control interventions is such that experts would disagree as to which is preferred. Further, while data accumulating during the course of a CRT may favor one intervention over another, clinical equipoise supports continuing the trial until the results are likely to be broadly convincing, often coinciding with the planned completion of the trial. Finally, clinical equipoise provides research ethics committees with formal and procedural guidelines that form an important part of the assessment of the benefits and harms of CRTs in health research.
PMCID: PMC3113987  PMID: 21569349
5.  Researchers’ perceptions of ethical challenges in cluster randomized trials: a qualitative analysis 
Trials  2013;14:1.
Cluster randomized trials (CRTs) pose ethical challenges for investigators and ethics committees. This study describes the views and experiences of CRT researchers with respect to: (1) ethical challenges in CRTs; (2) the ethics review process for CRTs; and (3) the need for comprehensive ethics guidelines for CRTs.
Descriptive qualitative analysis of interviews conducted with a purposive sample of 20 experienced CRT researchers.
Informants expressed concern over the potential for bias that may result from requirements to obtain informed consent from research participants in CRTs. Informants suggested that the need for informed consent ought to be related to the type of intervention under study in a CRT. Informants rarely expressed concern regarding risks to research participants in CRTs, other than risks to privacy. Important issues identified in the research ethics literature, including fair subject selection and other justice issues, were not mentioned by informants. The ethics review process has had positive and negative impacts on CRT conduct. Informants stated that variability in ethics review between jurisdictions, and increasingly stringent ethics review in recent years, have hampered their ability to conduct CRTs. Many informants said that comprehensive ethics guidelines for CRTs would be helpful to researchers and research ethics committees.
Informants identified key ethical challenges in the conduct of CRTs, specifically relating to identifying subjects, seeking informed consent, and the use of gatekeepers. These data have since been used to identify topics for in-depth ethical analysis and to guide the development of comprehensive ethics guidelines for CRTs.
PMCID: PMC3561139  PMID: 23286245
Cluster randomized trials; Research ethics; Informed consent; Clinical trials; Bioethics; Knowledge translation; Quality improvement; Implementation research
6.  Participant Informed Consent in Cluster Randomized Trials: Review 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e40436.
The Nuremberg code defines the general ethical framework of medical research with participant consent as its cornerstone. In cluster randomized trials (CRT), obtaining participant informed consent raises logistic and methodologic concerns. First, with randomization of large clusters such as geographical areas, obtaining individual informed consent may be impossible. Second, participants in randomized clusters cannot avoid certain interventions, which implies that participant informed consent refers only to data collection, not administration of an intervention. Third, complete participant information may be a source of selection bias, which then raises methodological concerns. We assessed whether participant informed consent was required in such trials, which type of consent was required, and whether the trial was at risk of selection bias because of the very nature of participant information.
Methods and Findings
We systematically reviewed all reports of CRT published in MEDLINE in 2008 and surveyed corresponding authors regarding the nature of the informed consent and the process of participant inclusion. We identified 173 reports and obtained an answer from 113 authors (65.3%). In total, 23.7% of the reports lacked information on ethics committee approval or participant consent, 53.1% of authors declared that participant consent was for data collection only and 58.5% that the group allocation was not specified for participants. The process of recruitment (chronology of participant recruitment with regard to cluster randomization) was rarely reported, and we estimated that only 56.6% of the trials were free of potential selection bias.
For CRTs, the reporting of ethics committee approval and participant informed consent is less than optimal. Reports should describe whether participants consented for administration of an intervention and/or data collection. Finally, the process of participant recruitment should be fully described (namely, whether participants were informed of the allocation group before being recruited) for a better appraisal of the risk of selection bias.
PMCID: PMC3391275  PMID: 22792319
7.  Electronic search strategies to identify reports of cluster randomized trials in MEDLINE: low precision will improve with adherence to reporting standards 
Cluster randomized trials (CRTs) present unique methodological and ethical challenges. Researchers conducting systematic reviews of CRTs (e.g., addressing methodological or ethical issues) require efficient electronic search strategies (filters or hedges) to identify trials in electronic databases such as MEDLINE. According to the CONSORT statement extension to CRTs, the clustered design should be clearly identified in titles or abstracts; however, variability in terminology may make electronic identification challenging. Our objectives were to (a) evaluate sensitivity ("recall") and precision of a well-known electronic search strategy ("randomized controlled trial" as publication type) with respect to identifying CRTs, (b) evaluate the feasibility of new search strategies targeted specifically at CRTs, and (c) determine whether CRTs are appropriately identified in titles or abstracts of reports and whether there has been improvement over time.
We manually examined a wide range of health journals to identify a gold standard set of CRTs. Search strategies were evaluated against the gold standard set, as well as an independent set of CRTs included in previous systematic reviews.
The existing strategy (randomized controlled is sensitive (93.8%) for identifying CRTs, but has relatively low precision (9%, number needed to read 11); the number needed to read can be halved to 5 (precision 18.4%) by combining with cluster design-related terms using the Boolean operator AND; combining with the Boolean operator OR maximizes sensitivity (99.4%) but would require 28.6 citations read to identify one CRT. Only about 50% of CRTs are clearly identified as cluster randomized in titles or abstracts; approximately 25% can be identified based on the reported units of randomization but are not amenable to electronic searching; the remaining 25% cannot be identified except through manual inspection of the full-text article. The proportion of trials clearly identified has increased from 28% between the years 2000-2003, to 60% between 2004-2007 (absolute increase 32%, 95% CI 17 to 47%).
CRTs should include the phrase "cluster randomized trial" in titles or abstracts; this will facilitate more accurate indexing of the publication type by reviewers at the National Library of Medicine, and efficient textword retrieval of the subset employing cluster randomization.
PMCID: PMC2833170  PMID: 20158899
8.  Variability in research ethics review of cluster randomized trials: a scenario-based survey in three countries 
Trials  2014;15:48.
Cluster randomized trials (CRTs) present unique ethical challenges. In the absence of a uniform standard for their ethical design and conduct, problems such as variability in procedures and requirements by different research ethics committees will persist. We aimed to assess the need for ethics guidelines for CRTs among research ethics chairs internationally, investigate variability in procedures for research ethics review of CRTs within and among countries, and elicit research ethics chairs’ perspectives on specific ethical issues in CRTs, including the identification of research subjects. The proper identification of research subjects is a necessary requirement in the research ethics review process, to help ensure, on the one hand, that subjects are protected from harm and exploitation, and on the other, that reviews of CRTs are completed efficiently.
A web-based survey with closed- and open-ended questions was administered to research ethics chairs in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The survey presented three scenarios of CRTs involving cluster-level, professional-level, and individual-level interventions. For each scenario, a series of questions was posed with respect to the type of review required (full, expedited, or no review) and the identification of research subjects at cluster and individual levels.
A total of 189 (35%) of 542 chairs responded. Overall, 144 (84%, 95% CI 79 to 90%) agreed or strongly agreed that there is a need for ethics guidelines for CRTs and 158 (92%, 95% CI 88 to 96%) agreed or strongly agreed that research ethics committees could be better informed about distinct ethical issues surrounding CRTs. There was considerable variability among research ethics chairs with respect to the type of review required, as well as the identification of research subjects. The cluster-cluster and professional-cluster scenarios produced the most disagreement.
Research ethics committees identified a clear need for ethics guidelines for CRTs and education about distinct ethical issues in CRTs. There is disagreement among committees, even within the same countries, with respect to key questions in the ethics review of CRTs. This disagreement reflects variability of opinion and practices pointing toward possible gaps in knowledge, and supports the need for explicit guidelines for the ethical conduct and review of CRTs.
PMCID: PMC3925119  PMID: 24495542
Cluster randomized trials; Informed consent; Research ethics guidelines; Research ethics review; Web-based survey
9.  Inadequate reporting of research ethics review and informed consent in cluster randomised trials: review of random sample of published trials 
Objectives To investigate the extent to which authors of cluster randomised trials adhered to two basic requirements of the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Helsinki and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ uniform requirements for manuscripts (namely, reporting of research ethics review and informed consent), to determine whether the adequacy of reporting has improved over time, and to identify characteristics of cluster randomised trials associated with reporting of ethics practices.
Design Review of a random sample of published cluster randomised trials from an electronic search in Medline.
Setting Cluster randomised trials in health research published in English language journals from 2000 to 2008.
Study sample 300 cluster randomised trials published in 150 journals.
Results 77 (26%, 95% confidence interval 21% to 31%) trials failed to report ethics review. The proportion reporting ethics review increased significantly over time (P<0.001). Trials with data collection interventions at the individual level were more likely to report ethics review than were trials that used routine data sources only (79% (n=151) v 55% (23); P=0.008). Trials that accounted for clustering in the design and analysis were more likely to report ethics review. The median impact factor of the journal of publication was higher for trials that reported ethics review (3.4 v 2.3; P<0.001). 93 (31%, 26% to 36%) trials failed to report consent. Reporting of consent increased significantly over time (P<0.001). Trials with interventions targeting participants at the individual level were more likely to report consent than were trials with interventions targeting the cluster level (87% (90) v 48% (41); P<0.001). Trials with data collection interventions at the individual level were more likely to report consent than were those that used routine data sources only (78% (146) v 29% (11); P<0.001).
Conclusions Reporting of research ethics protections in cluster randomised trials is inadequate. In addition to research ethics approval, authors should report whether informed consent was sought, from whom consent was sought, and what consent was for.
PMCID: PMC3092521  PMID: 21562003
10.  Ethical and policy issues in cluster randomized trials: rationale and design of a mixed methods research study 
Trials  2009;10:61.
Cluster randomized trials are an increasingly important methodological tool in health research. In cluster randomized trials, intact social units or groups of individuals, such as medical practices, schools, or entire communities – rather than individual themselves – are randomly allocated to intervention or control conditions, while outcomes are then observed on individual cluster members. The substantial methodological differences between cluster randomized trials and conventional randomized trials pose serious challenges to the current conceptual framework for research ethics. The ethical implications of randomizing groups rather than individuals are not addressed in current research ethics guidelines, nor have they even been thoroughly explored. The main objectives of this research are to: (1) identify ethical issues arising in cluster trials and learn how they are currently being addressed; (2) understand how ethics reviews of cluster trials are carried out in different countries (Canada, the USA and the UK); (3) elicit the views and experiences of trial participants and cluster representatives; (4) develop well-grounded guidelines for the ethical conduct and review of cluster trials by conducting an extensive ethical analysis and organizing a consensus process; (5) disseminate the guidelines to researchers, research ethics boards (REBs), journal editors, and research funders.
We will use a mixed-methods (qualitative and quantitative) approach incorporating both empirical and conceptual work. Empirical work will include a systematic review of a random sample of published trials, a survey and in-depth interviews with trialists, a survey of REBs, and in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with trial participants and gatekeepers. The empirical work will inform the concurrent ethical analysis which will lead to a guidance document laying out principles, policy options, and rationale for proposed guidelines. An Expert Panel of researchers, ethicists, health lawyers, consumer advocates, REB members, and representatives from low-middle income countries will be appointed. A consensus conference will be convened and draft guidelines will be generated by the Panel; an e-consultation phase will then be launched to invite comments from the broader community of researchers, policy-makers, and the public before a final set of guidelines is generated by the Panel and widely disseminated by the research team.
PMCID: PMC2725043  PMID: 19638233
11.  Ethical issues in implementation research: a discussion of the problems in achieving informed consent 
Improved quality of care is a policy objective of health care systems around the world. Implementation research is the scientific study of methods to promote the systematic uptake of clinical research findings into routine clinical practice, and hence to reduce inappropriate care. It includes the study of influences on healthcare professionals' behaviour and methods to enable them to use research findings more effectively. Cluster randomized trials represent the optimal design for evaluating the effectiveness of implementation strategies. Various codes of medical ethics, such as the Nuremberg Code and the Declaration of Helsinki inform medical research, but their relevance to cluster randomised trials in implementation research is unclear. This paper discusses the applicability of various ethical codes to obtaining consent in cluster trials in implementation research.
The appropriate application of biomedical codes to implementation research is not obvious. Discussion of the nature and practice of informed consent in implementation research cluster trials must consider the levels at which consent can be sought, and for what purpose it can be sought. The level at which an intervention is delivered can render the idea of patient level consent meaningless. Careful consideration of the ownership of information, and rights of access to and exploitation of data is required. For health care professionals and organizations, there is a balance between clinical freedom and responsibility to participate in research.
While ethical justification for clinical trials relies heavily on individual consent, for implementation research aspects of distributive justice, economics, and political philosophy underlie the debate. Societies may need to trade off decisions on the choice between individualized consent and valid implementation research. We suggest that social sciences codes could usefully inform the consideration of implementation research by members of Research Ethics Committees.
PMCID: PMC2639614  PMID: 19091100
12.  CRTs – Cluster Randomized Trials or “Courting Real Troubles” 
This paper addresses the logistical challenges of implementing public health interventions in the setting of cluster randomized trials (CRTs), drawing on the experience of carrying out a CRT within a community-based health insurance (CBHI) scheme in rural India. Our CRT is seeking to improve the equity impact – i.e., reduce the differential in claims submission for hospitalization between poor and less poor – of this CBHI in rural areas. Five main challenges are identified and discussed: 1) assigning control clusters, 2) blinding, 3) implementing interventions simultaneously, 4) minimizing leakage, and 5) piggy-backing on a changing scheme. These challenges are not likely to be unique to low-income settings, although the fifth challenge is particularly likely when working with relatively small and resource-constrained programs. While compromises to methodological best-practice may reduce internal validity, they make the intervention more ‘real’, and potentially more applicable, to other programs and settings. Further, careful documentation of compromises allows them to be considered in the final analysis.
Cet article traite des difficultés logistiques rencontrées dans la mise en oeuvre d'interventions de santé publique dans le cadre d'essais contrôlés randomisés par grappes. Il tire les enseignements d'une expérience menée au sein d'un système d'assurance-santé communautaire dans une région rurale de l'Inde. Il s'agit d'une intervention randomisée par grappes qui a pour but d'améliorer l'équité du système, à savoir réduire l'écart entre les demandes de remboursement des frais d'hospitalisation soumises par les populations pauvres et moins pauvres. Cinq grandes difficultés sont présentées et discutées dans l'article : 1) la mise en place des groupes de contrôle, 2) la création des conditions d'un test en aveugle, 3) la simultanéité des interventions, 4) le risque de contamination entre les groupes et 5) l'implantation sur un dispositif connaissant des modifications. Ces problèmes ne sont pas propres au contexte des pays en développement, bien que le dernier soit plus courant dans le cas de petits programmes aux ressources limitées. Les concessions faites par rapport aux canons méthodologiques sont susceptibles de réduire la validité interne de l'étude, mais elles rendent l'intervention plus réaliste et potentiellement plus applicable à d'autres contextes. En outre, une documentation précise de ces compromis nous permet de les prendre en compte à la fin de l'analyse.
PMCID: PMC1791008  PMID: 16512334
Health insurance; India; nongovernmental organizations; randomized controlled trials
13.  Successful recruitment to trials: a phased approach to opening gates and building bridges 
The pragmatic randomised controlled trial is widely regarded as the gold standard method for evaluating the effectiveness of health care interventions. Successful conduct of trials and generalisation of findings depends upon efficient recruitment of representative samples, which often requires the collaboration of 'gatekeepers' who mediate access to potential participants. Effective negotiation of gatekeeping is thus vital to process and outcomes of trials and the quality of evidence. Whilst relevant literature contains discussion of the problems of recruitment and gatekeeping, little is known about how recruitment can be optimised and factors leading to successful recruitment.
As practised researchers with first-hand experience of gatekeeping, we were aware that some researchers recruit more effectively than others and curious about the ingredients of success. With the goal of developing practical guidance, we conducted a series of workshops with 19 expert researchers to investigate and map successful recruitment. Workshops were digitally recorded and transcribed. Analysis of discussion supported modelling of effective recruitment as a process involving three phases, each comprising two key tasks. Successful negotiation of set-up, alliance, and exchange require judicious deployment of interpersonal skills in an appropriately assertive manner. Researcher flexibility and credibility are vital for success, such that a foundation for rapprochement between the worlds of research and practice is established.
Our model provides a framework to support design and implementation of recruitment activities and will enable trouble shooting and support recruitment, supervision and training of effective researchers. This, in turn will support delivery of trials on time and on budget, maximising return on investment in the production of evidence.
Pragmatic trials are central to development of evidence based health care but often failure to recruit the necessary sample in a timely manner means many fail or require costly extensions. Gatekeeping is implicated in this. Drawing on the knowledge of 19 expert researchers, we argue that successful researchers are resourceful and personable, judiciously deploying interpersonal skills and expertise to engage with gatekeepers and establish a shared objective. We propose that understanding recruitment as a phased process can enhance design and conduct of trials, supporting completion on time, on budget.
PMCID: PMC3114795  PMID: 21595906
14.  Challenges for consent and community engagement in the conduct of cluster randomized trial among school children in low income settings: experiences from Kenya 
Trials  2013;14:142.
There are a number of practical and ethical issues raised in school-based health research, particularly those related to obtaining consent from parents and assent from children. One approach to developing, strengthening, and supporting appropriate consent and assent processes is through community engagement. To date, much of the literature on community engagement in biomedical research has concentrated on community- or hospital-based research, with little documentation, if any, of community engagement in school-based health research. In this paper we discuss our experiences of consent, assent and community engagement in implementing a large school-based cluster randomized trial in rural Kenya.
Data collected as part of a qualitative study investigating the acceptability of the main trial, focus group discussions with field staff, observations of practice and authors’ experiences are used to: 1) highlight the challenges faced in obtaining assent/consent; and 2) strategies taken to try to both protect participant rights (including to refuse and to withdraw) and ensure the success of the trial.
Early meetings with national, district and local level stakeholders were important in establishing their co-operation and support for the project. Despite this support, both practical and ethical challenges were encountered during consenting and assenting procedures. Our strategy for addressing these challenges focused on improving communication and understanding of the trial, and maintaining dialogue with all the relevant stakeholders throughout the study period.
A range of stakeholders within and beyond schools play a key role in school based health trials. Community entry and information dissemination strategies need careful planning from the outset, and with on-going consultation and feedback mechanisms established in order to identify and address concerns as they arise. We believe our experiences, and the ethical and practical issues and dilemmas encountered, will be of interest for others planning to conduct school-based research in Africa.
Trial registration
National Institute of Health NCT00878007
PMCID: PMC3661351  PMID: 23680181
Malaria; Cluster-randomized trial; Consent; Community engagement; School-based research; Kenya
15.  Does a brief suicide prevention gatekeeper training program enhance observed skills? 
Crisis  2010;31(3):149-159.
Suicide is a significant public health problem worldwide that requires evidence-based prevention efforts. One approach to prevention is gatekeeper training. Gatekeeper training programs for community members have demonstrated positive changes in knowledge and attitudes about suicide. Changes in gatekeeper skills have not been well established.
To assess and predict the impact of a brief, gatekeeper training on community members’ observed skills.
Participants in a community gatekeeper training were employees at US universities. 50 participants were randomly selected for skills assessment and videotaped interacting with a standardized actor prior to and following training. Tapes were reliability rated for general and suicide-specific skills.
Gatekeeper skills increased from pre- to posttest: 10% of participants met criteria for acceptable gatekeeper skills before training, while 54% met criteria after training. Pretraining variables did not predict increased skills.
Results do not provide conclusions about the relationship between observed gatekeeper skills and actual use of those skills in the future.
Gatekeeper training enhances suicide-specific skills for the majority of participants. Other strategies, such as behavioral rehearsal, may be necessary to enhance skills in the remaining participants.
PMCID: PMC2913886  PMID: 20573609
16.  Does Type of Gatekeeping Model Affect Access to Outpatient Specialty Mental Health Services? 
Health Services Research  2007;42(1 Pt 1):104-123.
To measure how a change in gatekeeping model affects utilization of specialty mental health services.
Data Sources/Study Setting
Secondary data from health insurance claims for services during 1996–1999. The setting is a managed care organization that changed gatekeeping model in one of its divisions, from in-person evaluation to the use of a call-center.
Study Design
We evaluate the impact of the change in gatekeeping model by comparing utilization during the 2 years before and 2 years after the change, both in the affected division and in another division where gatekeeping model did not change. The design is thus a controlled quasi-experimental one. Subjects were not randomized. Key dependent variables are whether each individual had any specialty mental health visits in a year; the number of visits; and the proportion of users exceeding eight visits in a year. Key explanatory variables include demographic variables and indicators for patient diagnoses and their intervention status (time-period, study group).
Data Collection/Extraction Methods
Claims data were aggregated to create analytic files with one record per member per year, with variables reporting demographic characteristics and mental health service use.
Principal Findings
After controlling for secular trends at the other division, the division which changed gatekeeping model eventually experienced an increase in the proportion of enrollees receiving specialty mental health treatment, of 0.5 percentage point. Similarly, there was an increase of about 0.6 annual visits per user, concentrated at the low end of the distribution. These changes occurred only in the second year after the gatekeeping changes.
The results of this study suggest that the gatekeeping changes did lead to increases in utilization of mental health care, as hypothesized. At the same time, the magnitude of the increase in access and mean number of visits that we found was relatively modest. This suggests that while the change from face-to-face specialty gatekeeping to call-center intake does increase utilization, it is unlikely to overwhelm a system with new demand or create huge cost increases.
PMCID: PMC1955246  PMID: 17355584
Mental health; gatekeeping; utilization management
17.  Informed Consent in Research to Improve the Number and Quality of Deceased-Donor Organs 
Critical care medicine  2011;39(2):280-283.
Improving the management of potential organ donors in the ICU could meet an important public health goal by increasing the number and quality of transplantable organs. However, randomized clinical trials (RCTs) are needed to quantify the extent to which specific interventions might enhance organ recovery and outcomes among transplant recipients. Among several barriers to conducting such studies are the absence of guidelines for obtaining informed consent for such studies, and the fact that deceased organ donors are not covered by extant federal regulations governing oversight of research with human subjects. This paper explores the underexamined ethical issues that arise in the context of donor management studies, and provides ethical guidelines and suggested regulatory oversight mechanisms to enable such studies to be conducted ethically. We conclude that both the respect that is traditionally accorded to the prior wishes of the dead and the possibility of post-mortem harm support a role for surrogate consent of donors in such RCTs. Furthermore, although recipients will often be considered human subjects under federal regulations, several ethical arguments support waiving requirements for recipient consent in donor management RCTs. Finally, we suggest that new regulatory mechanisms, perhaps linked to existing regional and national organ donation and transplantation infrastructures, must be established to protect patients in donor management studies while limiting unnecessary barriers to the conduct of this important research.
PMCID: PMC3717371  PMID: 20975549
informed consent; organ donation; transplantation; research ethics
18.  Slaying the dragon myth: an ethnographic study of receptionists in UK general practice 
The British Journal of General Practice  2013;63(608):e177-e184.
General practice receptionists fulfil an essential role in UK primary care, shaping patient access to health professionals. They are often portrayed as powerful ‘gatekeepers’. Existing literature and management initiatives advocate more training to improve their performance and, consequently, the patient experience.
To explore the complexity of the role of general practice receptionists by considering the wider practice context in which they work.
Design and setting
Ethnographic observation in seven urban general practices in the north-west of England.
Seven researchers conducted 200 hours of ethnographic observation, predominantly in the reception areas of each practice. Forty-five receptionists were involved in the study and were asked about their work as they carried out their activities. Observational notes were taken. Analysis involved ascribing codes to incidents considered relevant to the role and organising these into related clusters.
Receptionists were faced with the difficult task of prioritising patients, despite having little time, information, and training. They felt responsible for protecting those patients who were most vulnerable, however this was sometimes made difficult by protocols set by the GPs and by patients trying to ‘play’ the system.
Framing the receptionist–patient encounter as one between the ‘powerful’ and the ‘vulnerable’ gets in the way of fully understanding the complex tasks receptionists perform and the contradictions that are inherent in their role. Calls for more training, without reflective attention to practice dynamics, risk failing to address systemic problems, portraying them instead as individual failings.
PMCID: PMC3582976  PMID: 23561784
ethnography; health services accessibility; primary care; qualitative research; receptionists, medical; role
19.  Imputation strategies for missing binary outcomes in cluster randomized trials 
Attrition, which leads to missing data, is a common problem in cluster randomized trials (CRTs), where groups of patients rather than individuals are randomized. Standard multiple imputation (MI) strategies may not be appropriate to impute missing data from CRTs since they assume independent data. In this paper, under the assumption of missing completely at random and covariate dependent missing, we compared six MI strategies which account for the intra-cluster correlation for missing binary outcomes in CRTs with the standard imputation strategies and complete case analysis approach using a simulation study.
We considered three within-cluster and three across-cluster MI strategies for missing binary outcomes in CRTs. The three within-cluster MI strategies are logistic regression method, propensity score method, and Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) method, which apply standard MI strategies within each cluster. The three across-cluster MI strategies are propensity score method, random-effects (RE) logistic regression approach, and logistic regression with cluster as a fixed effect. Based on the community hypertension assessment trial (CHAT) which has complete data, we designed a simulation study to investigate the performance of above MI strategies.
The estimated treatment effect and its 95% confidence interval (CI) from generalized estimating equations (GEE) model based on the CHAT complete dataset are 1.14 (0.76 1.70). When 30% of binary outcome are missing completely at random, a simulation study shows that the estimated treatment effects and the corresponding 95% CIs from GEE model are 1.15 (0.76 1.75) if complete case analysis is used, 1.12 (0.72 1.73) if within-cluster MCMC method is used, 1.21 (0.80 1.81) if across-cluster RE logistic regression is used, and 1.16 (0.82 1.64) if standard logistic regression which does not account for clustering is used.
When the percentage of missing data is low or intra-cluster correlation coefficient is small, different approaches for handling missing binary outcome data generate quite similar results. When the percentage of missing data is large, standard MI strategies, which do not take into account the intra-cluster correlation, underestimate the variance of the treatment effect. Within-cluster and across-cluster MI strategies (except for random-effects logistic regression MI strategy), which take the intra-cluster correlation into account, seem to be more appropriate to handle the missing outcome from CRTs. Under the same imputation strategy and percentage of missingness, the estimates of the treatment effect from GEE and RE logistic regression models are similar.
PMCID: PMC3055218  PMID: 21324148
20.  How US institutional review boards decide when researchers need to translate studies 
Journal of medical ethics  2013;40(3):193-197.
Informed consent is crucial in research, but potential participants may not all speak the same language, posing questions that have not been examined concerning decisions by institutional review boards (IRBs) and research ethics committees’ (RECs) about the need for researchers to translate consent forms and other study materials. Sixty US IRBs (every fourth one in the list of the top 240 institutions by The National Institutes of Health funding) were contacted, and leaders (eg, chairs) from 34 (response rate=57%) and an additional 12 members and administrators were interviewed. IRBs face a range of problems about translation of informed consent documents, questionnaires and manuals—what, when and how to translate (eg, for how many or what proportion of potential subjects), why to do so and how to decide. Difficulties can arise about translation of specific words and of broader cultural concepts regarding processes of informed consent and research, especially in the developing world. In these decisions, IRBs weigh the need for autonomy (through informed consent) and justice (to ensure fair distribution of benefits and burdens of research) against practical concerns about costs to researchers. At times IRBs may have to compromise between these competing goals. These data, the first to examine when and how IRBs/RECs require researchers to translate materials, thus highlight a range of problems with which these committees struggle, suggesting a need for further normative and empirical investigation of these domains, and consideration of guidelines to help IRBs deal with these tensions.
PMCID: PMC3864149  PMID: 23475805
21.  DNA databanks and consent: A suggested policy option involving an authorization model 
BMC Medical Ethics  2003;4:1.
Genetic databases are becoming increasingly common as a means of determining the relationship between lifestyle, environmental exposures and genetic diseases. These databases rely on large numbers of research subjects contributing their genetic material to successfully explore the genetic basis of disease. However, as all possible research questions that can be posed of the data are unknown, an unresolved ethical issue is the status of informed consent for future research uses of genetic material.
In this paper, we discuss the difficulties of an informed consent model for future ineffable uses of genetic data. We argue that variations on consent, such as presumed consent, blanket consent or constructed consent fail to meet the standards required by current informed consent doctrine and are distortions of the original concept. In this paper, we propose the concept of an authorization model whereby participants in genetic data banks are able to exercise a certain amount of control over future uses of genetic data. We argue this preserves the autonomy of individuals at the same time as allowing them to give permission and discretion to researchers for certain types of research.
The authorization model represents a step forward in the debate about informed consent in genetic databases. The move towards an authorization model would require changes in the regulatory and legislative environments. Additionally, empirical support of the utility and acceptability of authorization is required.
PMCID: PMC140033  PMID: 12513704
22.  Effectiveness of adolescent suicide prevention e-learning modules that aim to improve knowledge and self-confidence of gatekeepers: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial 
Trials  2014;15:52.
Providing e-learning modules can be an effective strategy for enhancing gatekeepers’ knowledge, self-confidence and skills in adolescent suicide prevention. The aim of this study was to test the effectiveness of an online training program called Mental Health Online which consists of eight short e-learning modules, each capturing an important aspect of the process of recognition, guidance and referral of suicidal adolescents (12–20 years). The primary outcomes of this study are participant’s ratings on perceived knowledge, perceived self-confidence, and actual knowledge regarding adolescent suicidality.
A randomized controlled trial will be carried out among 154 gatekeepers. After completing the first assessment (pre-test), participants will be randomly assigned to either the experimental group or the waitlist control group. One week after completing the first assessment the experimental group will have access to the website Mental Health Online containing the eight e-learning modules and additional information on adolescent suicide prevention. Participants in both conditions will be assessed 4 weeks after completing the first assessment (post-test), and 12 weeks after completing the post-test (follow-up). At post-test, participants from the experimental group are asked to complete an evaluation questionnaire on the modules. The waitlist control group will have access to the modules and additional information on the website after completing the follow-up assessment.
Gatekeepers can benefit from e-learning modules on adolescent suicide prevention. This approach allows them to learn about this sensitive subject at their own pace and from any given location, as long as they have access to the Internet. Given the flexible nature of the program, each participant can compose his/her own training creating an instant customized course with the required steps in adolescent suicide prevention.
Trial registration
Netherlands Trial Register NTR3625
PMCID: PMC3923552  PMID: 24507553
Adolescents; E-learning; Gatekeepers; Modules; Online; Prevention; Professionals; RCT; Suicide; Training
23.  Economic efficiency of gatekeeping compared with fee for service plans: a Swiss example 
Study objective
The impact of isolated gatekeeping on health care costs remains unclear. The aim of this study was to assess to what extent lower costs in a gatekeeping plan compared with a fee for service plan were attributable to more efficient resource management, or explained by risk selection.
Year 2000 costs to the Swiss statutory sick funds and potentially relevant covariates were assessed retrospectively from beneficiaries participating in an observational study, their primary care physicians, and insurance companies. To adjust for case mix, two‐part regression models of health care costs were fitted, consisting of logistic models of any costs occurring, and of generalised linear models of the amount of costs in persons with non‐zero costs. Complementary data sources were used to identify selection effects.
A gatekeeping plan introduced in 1997 and a fee for service plan, in Aarau, Switzerland.
Of each plan, 905 randomly selected adult beneficiaries were invited. The overall participation rate was 39%, but was unevenly distributed between plans.
Main results
The characteristics of gatekeeping and fee for service beneficiaries were largely similar. Unadjusted total costs per person were Sw fr231 (8%) lower in the gatekeeping group. After multivariate adjustment, the estimated cost savings achieved by replacing fee for service based health insurance with gatekeeping in the source population amounted to Sw fr403–517 (15%–19%) per person. Some selection effects were detected but did not substantially influence this result. An impact of non‐detected selection effects cannot be ruled out.
This study hints at substantial cost savings through gatekeeping that are not attributable to mere risk selection.
PMCID: PMC2465536  PMID: 16361451
economics; health care costs; managed care programmes; gatekeeping
24.  Will German Patients Accept Their Family Physician as a Gatekeeper? 
Looking to the experience in the United States with managed care and the possible introduction of gatekeeping in the near future in Germany, we performed a population-based survey to examine preferences for future gatekeeping arrangements.
Cross-sectional telephone survey.
Four health districts in Thuringia (formerly East Germany) and Lower Saxony (formerly West Germany).
Out of a random sample of 644 adults in the 4 districts, 415 persons (64.4%) took part in the survey.
Using multiple logistic regression, we analyzed associations between preferences for gatekeeping arrangements and patient satisfaction, insurance status, and sociodemographic characteristics. Seventy-four percent of respondents valued first-contact care, especially older people (odds ratio [OR], 4.3; 95% confidence interval [95% CI], 2.0 to 9.3), people who were very satisfied with the relationship with their family physician (OR, 2.7; 95% CI, 1.6 to 4.8) and members of sickness funds in contrast to privately insured persons (OR, 2.4; 95% CI, 1.2 to 5.2). The family physician's influence in coordinating the use of specialist services was appreciated by 86%, more often by members of sickness funds (OR, 5.9; 95% CI, 2.4 to 14.3), people who were very satisfied with their doctor's professional competence (OR, 3.2; 95% CI, 1.6 to 6.3) and older persons (OR, 2.9; 95% CI, 1.1 to 7.7).
A vast majority of the German population would accept their family physician as entry point and as coordinator of all other health services. Since patient satisfaction, among other reasons, strongly influenced preferences for gatekeeper arrangements, family physicians themselves may be able to promote primary care health services.
PMCID: PMC1495478  PMID: 10940137
Family practice; managed care; doctor-patient relations; health care reform; consumer satisfaction
25.  Cluster randomized trial in the general practice research database: 2. Secondary prevention after first stroke (eCRT study): study protocol for a randomized controlled trial 
Trials  2012;13:181.
The purpose of this research is to develop and evaluate methods for conducting pragmatic cluster randomized trials in a primary care electronic database. The proposal describes one application, in a less frequent chronic condition of public health importance, secondary prevention of stroke. A related protocol in antibiotic prescribing was reported previously.
The study aims to implement a cluster randomized trial (CRT) using the electronic patient records of the General Practice Research Database (GPRD) as a sampling frame and data source. The specific objective of the trial is to evaluate the effectiveness of a computer-delivered intervention at enhancing the delivery of stroke secondary prevention in primary care. GPRD family practices will be allocated to the intervention or usual care. The intervention promotes the use of electronic prompts to support adherence with the recommendations of the UK Intercollegiate Stroke Working Party and NICE guidelines for the secondary prevention of stroke in primary care. Primary outcome measure will be the difference in systolic blood pressure between intervention and control trial arms at 12-month follow-up. Secondary outcomes will be differences in serum cholesterol, prescribing of antihypertensive drugs, statins, and antiplatelet therapy. The intervention will continue for 12 months. Information on the utilization of the decision-support tools will also be analyzed.
The CRT will investigate the effectiveness of using a computer-delivered intervention to reduce the risk of stroke recurrence following a first stroke event. The study will provide methodological guidance on the implementation of CRTs in electronic databases in primary care.
Trial registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN35701810
PMCID: PMC3570277  PMID: 23034059
Clinical trials; Cluster analysis; Electronic health records; Feasibility studies; Stroke; Secondary prevention

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