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1.  Thanks to all those who reviewed for Trials in 2014 
Trials  2015;16:55.
Contributing reviewers
A peer-reviewed journal would not survive without the generous time and insightful comments of the reviewers, whose efforts often go unrecognized. Although final decisions are always editorial, they are greatly facilitated by the deeper technical knowledge, scientific insights, understanding of social consequences, and passion that reviewers bring to our deliberations. For these reasons, the Editors-in-Chief and staff of the journal warmly thank the 610 reviewers whose comments helped to shape Trials, for their invaluable assistance with review of manuscripts for the journal in Volume 15 (2014).
PMCID: PMC4336513
2.  The Ottawa Statement on the Ethical Design and Conduct of Cluster Randomized Trials 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(11):e1001346.
The Ottawa Ethics of Cluster Trials Consensus Group sets out 15 recommendations for the ethical design and conduct of cluster randomized trials.
PMCID: PMC3502500  PMID: 23185138
3.  Processes, contexts, and rationale for disinvestment: a protocol for a critical interpretive synthesis 
Systematic Reviews  2014;3(1):143.
Practical solutions are needed to support the appropriate use of available health system resources as countries are continually pressured to ‘do more with less’ in health care. Increasingly, health systems and organizations are exploring the reassessment of possibly obsolete, inefficient, or ineffective health system resources and potentially redirecting funds to those that are more effective and efficient. Such processes are often referred to as ‘disinvestment’. Our objective is to gain further understanding about: 1) whether how and under what conditions health systems decide to pursue disinvestment; 2) how health systems have chosen to undertake disinvestment; and 3) how health systems have implemented their disinvestment approach.
We will use a critical interpretive synthesis (CIS) approach, to develop a theoretical framework based on insights drawn from a range of relevant sources. We will conduct systematic searches of databases as well as purposive searches to identify literature to fill conceptual gaps that may emerge during our inductive process of synthesis and analysis. Two independent reviewers will assess search results for relevance and conceptually map included references. We will include all empirical and non-empirical articles that focus on disinvestment at a system level. We will then extract key findings from a purposive sample of articles using frameworks related to government agendas, policy development and implementation, and health system contextual factors and then synthesize and integrate the findings to develop a framework about our core areas of interest. Lastly, we will convene a stakeholder dialogue with Canadian and international policymakers and other stakeholders to solicit targeted feedback about the framework (e.g., by identifying any gaps in the literature that we may want to revisit before finalizing it) and deliberating about barriers for developing and implementing approaches to disinvestment, strategies to address these barriers and about next steps that could be taken by different constituencies.
Disinvestment is an emerging field and there is a need for evidence to inform the prioritization, development, and implementation of strategies in different contexts. Our CIS and the framework developed through it will support the actions of those involved in the prioritization, development, and implementation of disinvestment initiatives.
Systematic review registration
PROSPERO CRD42014013204
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/2046-4053-3-143) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4273322  PMID: 25495034
Disinvestment; Critical interpretive synthesis; Health technologies; Health system context; Policy development; Policy implementation; Reassessment; Appropriateness
4.  Barriers, facilitators and views about next steps to implementing supports for evidence-informed decision-making in health systems: a qualitative study 
Mobilizing research evidence for daily decision-making is challenging for health system decision-makers. In a previous qualitative paper, we showed the current mix of supports that Canadian health-care organizations have in place and the ones that are perceived to be helpful to facilitate the use of research evidence in health system decision-making. Factors influencing the implementation of such supports remain poorly described in the literature. Identifying the barriers to and facilitators of different interventions is essential for implementation of effective, context-specific, supports for evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) in health systems. The purpose of this study was to identify (a) barriers and facilitators to implementing supports for EIDM in Canadian health-care organizations, (b) views about emerging development of supports for EIDM, and (c) views about the priorities to bridge the gaps in the current mix of supports that these organizations have in place.
This qualitative study was conducted in three types of health-care organizations (regional health authorities, hospitals, and primary care practices) in two Canadian provinces (Ontario and Quebec). Fifty-seven in-depth semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with senior managers, library managers, and knowledge brokers from health-care organizations that have already undertaken strategic initiatives in knowledge translation. The interviews were taped, transcribed, and then analyzed thematically using NVivo 9 qualitative data analysis software.
Limited resources (i.e., money or staff), time constraints, and negative attitudes (or resistance) toward change were the most frequently identified barriers to implementing supports for EIDM. Genuine interest from health system decision-makers, notably their willingness to invest money and resources and to create a knowledge translation culture over time in health-care organizations, was the most frequently identified facilitator to implementing supports for EIDM. The most frequently cited views about emerging development of supports for EIDM were implementing accessible and efficient systems to support the use of research in decision-making (e.g., documentation and reporting tools, communication tools, and decision support tools) and developing and implementing an infrastructure or position where the accountability for encouraging knowledge use lies. The most frequently stated priorities for bridging the gaps in the current mix of supports that these organizations have in place were implementing technical infrastructures to support research use and to ensure access to research evidence and establishing formal or informal ties to researchers and knowledge brokers outside the organization who can assist in EIDM.
These results provide insights on the type of practical implementation imperatives involved in supporting EIDM.
PMCID: PMC4299810  PMID: 25476735
Evidence informed decision-making; Knowledge transfer and exchange; Knowledge translation
5.  A cross-sectional survey of supports for evidence-informed decision-making in healthcare organisations: a research protocol 
This protocol builds on the development of a) a framework that identified the various supports (i.e. positions, activities, interventions) that a healthcare organisation or health system can implement for evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) and b) a qualitative study that showed the current mix of supports that some Canadian healthcare organisations have in place and the ones that are perceived to facilitate the use of research evidence in decision-making. Based on these findings, we developed a web survey to collect cross-sectional data about the specific supports that regional health authorities and hospitals in two Canadian provinces (Ontario and Quebec) have in place to facilitate EIDM.
This paper describes the methods for a cross-sectional web survey among 32 regional health authorities and 253 hospitals in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario (Canada) to collect data on the current mix of organisational supports that these organisations have in place to facilitate evidence-informed decision-making. The data will be obtained through a two-step survey design: a 10-min survey among CEOs to identify key units and individuals in regard to our objectives (step 1) and a 20-min survey among managers of the key units identified in step 1 to collect information about the activities performed by their unit regarding the acquisition, assessment, adaptation and/or dissemination of research evidence in decision-making (step 2). The study will target three types of informants: CEOs, library/documentation centre managers and all other key managers whose unit is involved in the acquisition, assessment, adaptation/packaging and/or dissemination of research evidence in decision-making. We developed an innovative data collection system to increase the likelihood that only the best-informed respondent available answers each survey question. The reporting of the results will be done using descriptive statistics of supports by organisation type and by province.
This study will be the first to collect and report large-scale cross-sectional data on the current mix of supports health system organisations in the two most populous Canadian provinces have in place for evidence-informed decision-making. The study will also provide useful information to researchers on how to collect organisation-level data with reduced risk of self-reporting bias.
PMCID: PMC4197221  PMID: 25294109
Health systems; Knowledge translation; Research evidence; Cross-sectional study
6.  Are multifaceted interventions more effective than single-component interventions in changing health-care professionals’ behaviours? An overview of systematic reviews 
One of the greatest challenges in healthcare is how to best translate research evidence into clinical practice, which includes how to change health-care professionals’ behaviours. A commonly held view is that multifaceted interventions are more effective than single-component interventions. The purpose of this study was to conduct an overview of systematic reviews to evaluate the effectiveness of multifaceted interventions in comparison to single-component interventions in changing health-care professionals’ behaviour in clinical settings.
The Rx for Change database, which consists of quality-appraised systematic reviews of interventions to change health-care professional behaviour, was used to identify systematic reviews for the overview. Dual, independent screening and data extraction was conducted. Included reviews used three different approaches (of varying methodological robustness) to evaluate the effectiveness of multifaceted interventions: (1) effect size/dose-response statistical analyses, (2) direct (non-statistical) comparisons of multifaceted to single interventions and (3) indirect comparisons of multifaceted to single interventions.
Twenty-five reviews were included in the overview. Three reviews provided effect size/dose-response statistical analyses of the effectiveness of multifaceted interventions; no statistical evidence of a relationship between the number of intervention components and the effect size was found. Eight reviews reported direct (non-statistical) comparisons of multifaceted to single-component interventions; four of these reviews found multifaceted interventions to be generally effective compared to single interventions, while the remaining four reviews found that multifaceted interventions had either mixed effects or were generally ineffective compared to single interventions. Twenty-three reviews indirectly compared the effectiveness of multifaceted to single interventions; nine of which also reported either a statistical (dose-response) analysis (N = 2) or a non-statistical direct comparison (N = 7). The majority (N = 15) of reviews reporting indirect comparisons of multifaceted to single interventions showed similar effectiveness for multifaceted and single interventions when compared to controls. Of the remaining eight reviews, six found single interventions to be generally effective while multifaceted had mixed effectiveness.
This overview of systematic reviews offers no compelling evidence that multifaceted interventions are more effective than single-component interventions.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13012-014-0152-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4194373  PMID: 25287951
7.  Linked publications from a single trial: a thread of evidence 
Trials  2014;15(1):369.
PMCID: PMC4183771  PMID: 25248292
8.  Seeing the forests and the trees—innovative approaches to exploring heterogeneity in systematic reviews of complex interventions to enhance health system decision-making: a protocol 
Systematic Reviews  2014;3:88.
To improve quality of care and patient outcomes, health system decision-makers need to identify and implement effective interventions. An increasing number of systematic reviews document the effects of quality improvement programs to assist decision-makers in developing new initiatives. However, limitations in the reporting of primary studies and current meta-analysis methods (including approaches for exploring heterogeneity) reduce the utility of existing syntheses for health system decision-makers. This study will explore the role of innovative meta-analysis approaches and the added value of enriched and updated data for increasing the utility of systematic reviews of complex interventions.
We will use the dataset from our recent systematic review of 142 randomized trials of diabetes quality improvement programs to evaluate novel approaches for exploring heterogeneity. These will include exploratory methods, such as multivariate meta-regression analyses and all-subsets combinatorial meta-analysis. We will then update our systematic review to include new trials and enrich the dataset by surveying authors of all included trials. In doing so, we will explore the impact of variables not, reported in previous publications, such as details of study context, on the effectiveness of the intervention. We will use innovative analytical methods on the enriched and updated dataset to identify key success factors in the implementation of quality improvement interventions for diabetes. Decision-makers will be involved throughout to help identify and prioritize variables to be explored and to aid in the interpretation and dissemination of results.
This study will inform future systematic reviews of complex interventions and describe the value of enriching and updating data for exploring heterogeneity in meta-analysis. It will also result in an updated comprehensive systematic review of diabetes quality improvement interventions that will be useful to health system decision-makers in developing interventions to improve outcomes for people with diabetes.
Systematic review registration
PROSPERO registration no. CRD42013005165
PMCID: PMC4174390  PMID: 25115289
Diabetes care; Knowledge translation; Quality improvement interventions; Complex Interventions; Health system decision-makers; Systematic review; Meta-analysis; Implementation science; Heterogeneity; Hierarchical modeling
9.  Looking inside the black box: results of a theory-based process evaluation exploring the results of a randomized controlled trial of printed educational messages to increase primary care physicians’ diabetic retinopathy referrals [Trial registration number ISRCTN72772651] 
Theory-based process evaluations conducted alongside randomized controlled trials provide the opportunity to investigate hypothesized mechanisms of action of interventions, helping to build a cumulative knowledge base and to inform the interpretation of individual trial outcomes. Our objective was to identify the underlying causal mechanisms in a cluster randomized trial of the effectiveness of printed educational materials (PEMs) to increase referral for diabetic retinopathy screening. We hypothesized that the PEMs would increase physicians’ intention to refer patients for retinal screening by strengthening their attitude and subjective norm, but not their perceived behavioral control.
Design: A theory based process evaluation alongside the Ontario Printed Educational Material (OPEM) cluster randomized trial. Postal surveys based on the Theory of Planned Behavior were sent to a random sample of trial participants two months before and six months after they received the intervention. Setting: Family physicians in Ontario, Canada. Participants: 1,512 family physicians (252 per intervention group) from the OPEM trial were invited to participate, and 31.3% (473/1512) responded at time one and time two. The final sample comprised 437 family physicians fully completing questionnaires at both time points. Main outcome measures: Primary: behavioral intention related to referring patient for retinopathy screening; secondary: attitude, subjective norm, perceived behavioral control.
At baseline, family physicians reported positive intention, attitude, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control to advise patients about retinopathy screening suggesting limited opportunities for improvement in these constructs. There were no significant differences on intention, attitude, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control following the intervention. Respondents also reported additional physician- and patient-related factors perceived to influence whether patients received retinopathy screening.
Lack of change in the primary and secondary theory-based outcomes provides an explanation for the lack of observed effect of the main OPEM trial. High baseline levels of intention to advise patients to attend retinopathy screening suggest that post-intentional and other factors may explain gaps in care. Process evaluations based on behavioral theory can provide replicable and generalizable insights to aid interpretation of randomized controlled trials of complex interventions to change health professional behavior.
Trial registration
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1748-5908-9-86) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4261878  PMID: 25098442
Process evaluation; Theory of planned behavior; Printed educational material; Healthcare professional behavior; Behavior change
10.  Printed educational messages aimed at family practitioners fail to increase retinal screening among their patients with diabetes: a pragmatic cluster randomized controlled trial [ISRCTN72772651] 
Evidence of the effectiveness of printed educational messages in narrowing the gap between guideline recommendations and practice is contradictory. Failure to screen for retinopathy exposes primary care patients with diabetes to risk of eye complications. Screening is initiated by referral from family practitioners but adherence to guidelines is suboptimal. We aimed to evaluate the ability of printed educational messages aimed at family doctors to increase retinal screening of primary care patients with diabetes.
Design: Pragmatic 2×3 factorial cluster trial randomized by physician practice, involving 5,048 general practitioners (with 179,833 patients with diabetes). Setting: Ontario family practitioners. Interventions: Reminders (that retinal screening helps prevent diabetes-related vision loss and is covered by provincial health insurance for patients with diabetes) with prompts to encourage screening were mailed to each physician in conjunction with a widely-read professional newsletter. Alternative printed materials formats were an ‘outsert’ (short, directive message stapled to the outside of the newsletter), and/or a two-page, evidence-based article (‘insert’) and a pre-printed sticky note reminder for patients. Main outcome measure: A successful outcome was an eye examination (which includes retinal screening) provided to a patient with diabetes, not screened in the previous 12 months, within 90 days after visiting a family practitioner. Analysis accounted for clustering of doctors within practice groups.
No intervention effect was detected (eye exam rates were 31.6% for patients of control physicians, 31.3% for the insert, 32.8% for the outsert, 32.3% for those who received both, and 31.2% for those who received both plus the patient reminder with the largest 95% confidence interval around any effect extending from −1.3% to 1.1%).
This large trial conclusively failed to demonstrate any impact of printed educational messages on screening uptake. Despite their low cost, printed educational messages should not be routinely used in attempting to close evidence-practice gaps relating to diabetic retinopathy screening.
Trial registration
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1748-5908-9-87) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4261896  PMID: 25098587
11.  Application of theory to enhance audit and feedback interventions to increase the uptake of evidence-based transfusion practice: an intervention development protocol 
Audits of blood transfusion demonstrate around 20% transfusions are outside national recommendations and guidelines. Audit and feedback is a widely used quality improvement intervention but effects on clinical practice are variable, suggesting potential for enhancement. Behavioural theory, theoretical frameworks of behaviour change and behaviour change techniques provide systematic processes to enhance intervention. This study is part of a larger programme of work to promote the uptake of evidence-based transfusion practice.
The objectives of this study are to design two theoretically enhanced audit and feedback interventions; one focused on content and one on delivery, and investigate the feasibility and acceptability.
Study A (Content): A coding framework based on current evidence regarding audit and feedback, and behaviour change theory and frameworks will be developed and applied as part of a structured content analysis to specify the key components of existing feedback documents. Prototype feedback documents with enhanced content and also a protocol, describing principles for enhancing feedback content, will be developed. Study B (Delivery): Individual semi-structured interviews with healthcare professionals and observations of team meetings in four hospitals will be used to specify, and identify views about, current audit and feedback practice. Interviews will be based on a topic guide developed using the Theoretical Domains Framework and the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research. Analysis of transcripts based on these frameworks will form the evidence base for developing a protocol describing an enhanced intervention that focuses on feedback delivery. Study C (Feasibility and Acceptability): Enhanced interventions will be piloted in four hospitals. Semi-structured interviews, questionnaires and observations will be used to assess feasibility and acceptability.
This intervention development work reflects the UK Medical Research Council’s guidance on development of complex interventions, which emphasises the importance of a robust theoretical basis for intervention design and recommends systematic assessment of feasibility and acceptability prior to taking interventions to evaluation in a full-scale randomised study. The work-up includes specification of current practice so that, in the trials to be conducted later in this programme, there will be a clear distinction between the control (usual practice) conditions and the interventions to be evaluated.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13012-014-0092-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4243714  PMID: 25070404
Audit and feedback; Blood transfusion; Implementation; Health services research; Study protocol; Health professional behaviour change
12.  Implementing evidence-based recommended practices for the management of patients with mild traumatic brain injuries in Australian emergency care departments: study protocol for a cluster randomised controlled trial 
Trials  2014;15:281.
Mild head injuries commonly present to emergency departments. The challenges facing clinicians in emergency departments include identifying which patients have traumatic brain injury, and which patients can safely be sent home. Traumatic brain injuries may exist with subtle symptoms or signs, but can still lead to adverse outcomes. Despite the existence of several high quality clinical practice guidelines, internationally and in Australia, research shows inconsistent implementation of these recommendations. The aim of this trial is to test the effectiveness of a targeted, theory- and evidence-informed implementation intervention to increase the uptake of three key clinical recommendations regarding the emergency department management of adult patients (18 years of age or older) who present following mild head injuries (concussion), compared with passive dissemination of these recommendations. The primary objective is to establish whether the intervention is effective in increasing the percentage of patients for which appropriate post-traumatic amnesia screening is performed.
The design of this study is a cluster randomised trial. We aim to include 34 Australian 24-hour emergency departments, which will be randomised to an intervention or control group. Control group departments will receive a copy of the most recent Australian evidence-based clinical practice guideline on the acute management of patients with mild head injuries. The intervention group will receive an implementation intervention based on an analysis of influencing factors, which include local stakeholder meetings, identification of nursing and medical opinion leaders in each site, a train-the-trainer day and standardised education and interactive workshops delivered by the opinion leaders during a 3 month period of time. Clinical practice outcomes will be collected retrospectively from medical records by independent chart auditors over the 2 month period following intervention delivery (patient level outcomes). In consenting hospitals, eligible patients will be recruited for a follow-up telephone interview conducted by trained researchers. A cost-effectiveness analysis and process evaluation using mixed-methods will be conducted. Sample size calculations are based on including 30 patients on average per department. Outcome assessors will be blinded to group allocation.
Trial registration
Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry ACTRN12612001286831 (date registered 12 December 2012).
PMCID: PMC4107995  PMID: 25012235
Mild traumatic brain injury; Cluster trial; Emergency department
13.  Growing Literature, Stagnant Science? Systematic Review, Meta-Regression and Cumulative Analysis of Audit and Feedback Interventions in Health Care 
Journal of General Internal Medicine  2014;29(11):1534-1541.
This paper extends the findings of the Cochrane systematic review of audit and feedback on professional practice to explore the estimate of effect over time and examine whether new trials have added to knowledge regarding how optimize the effectiveness of audit and feedback.
We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE, and EMBASE for randomized trials of audit and feedback compared to usual care, with objectively measured outcomes assessing compliance with intended professional practice. Two reviewers independently screened articles and abstracted variables related to the intervention, the context, and trial methodology. The median absolute risk difference in compliance with intended professional practice was determined for each study, and adjusted for baseline performance. The effect size across studies was recalculated as studies were added to the cumulative analysis. Meta-regressions were conducted for studies published up to 2002, 2006, and 2010 in which characteristics of the intervention, the recipients, and trial risk of bias were tested as predictors of effect size.
Of the 140 randomized clinical trials (RCTs) included in the Cochrane review, 98 comparisons from 62 studies met the criteria for inclusion. The cumulative analysis indicated that the effect size became stable in 2003 after 51 comparisons from 30 trials. Cumulative meta-regressions suggested new trials are contributing little further information regarding the impact of common effect modifiers. Feedback appears most effective when: delivered by a supervisor or respected colleague; presented frequently; featuring both specific goals and action-plans; aiming to decrease the targeted behavior; baseline performance is lower; and recipients are non-physicians.
There is substantial evidence that audit and feedback can effectively improve quality of care, but little evidence of progress in the field. There are opportunity costs for patients, providers, and health care systems when investigators test quality improvement interventions that do not build upon, or contribute toward, extant knowledge.
PMCID: PMC4238192  PMID: 24965281
audit and feedback; scientific progress; quality improvement; systematic review; cumulative analysis
14.  Impact of stated barriers on proposed warfarin prescription for atrial fibrillation: a survey of Canadian physicians 
Thrombosis Journal  2014;12:13.
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common cardiac arrhythmia, and leading cause of ischemic stroke. Despite proven effectiveness, warfarin remains an under-used treatment in atrial fibrillation patients. We sought to study, across three physician specialties, a range of factors that have been argued to have a disproportionate effect on treatment decisions.
Cross-sectional survey of Canadian Family Doctors (FD: n = 500), Geriatricians (G: n = 149), and Internal Medicine specialists (IMS: n = 500). Of these, 1032 physicians were contactable, and 335 completed and usable responses were received. Survey questions and clinical vignettes asked about the frequency with which they see patients with atrial fibrillation, treatment practices, and barriers to the prescription of anticoagulants.
Stated prescribing practices did not significantly differ between physician groups. Falls risk, bleeding risk and poor patient adherence were all highly cited barriers to prescribing warfarin. Fewer geriatricians indicated that history of patient falls would be a reason for not treating with warfarin (G: 47%; FD: 71%; IMS: 72%), and significantly fewer changed reported practice in the presence of falls risk (χ2 (6) = 45.446, p < 0.01). Experience of a patient having a stroke whilst not on warfarin had a significant impact on vignette decisions; physicians who had had patients who experienced a stroke were more likely to prescribe warfarin (χ2 (3) =10.7, p = 0.013).
Barriers to treatment of atrial fibrillation with warfarin affect physician specialties to different extents. Prior experience of a patient suffering a stroke when not prescribed warfarin is positively associated with intention to prescribe warfarin, even in the presence of falls risk.
PMCID: PMC4144316  PMID: 25161388
15.  Design, implementation, and evaluation of a knowledge translation intervention to increase organ donation after cardiocirculatory death in Canada: a study protocol 
A shortage of transplantable organs is a global problem. There are two types of organ donation: living and deceased. Deceased organ donation can occur following neurological determination of death (NDD) or cardiocirculatory death. Donation after cardiocirculatory death (DCD) accounts for the largest increments in deceased organ donation worldwide. Variations in the use of DCD exist, however, within Canada and worldwide. Reasons for these discrepancies are largely unknown. The purpose of this study is to develop, implement, and evaluate a theory-based knowledge translation intervention to provide practical guidance about how to increase the numbers of DCD organ donors without reducing the numbers of standard NDD donors.
We will use a mixed method three-step approach. In step one, we will conduct semi-structured interviews, informed by the Theoretical Domains Framework, to identify and describe stakeholders’ beliefs and attitudes about DCD and their perceptions of the multi-level factors that influence DCD. We will identify: determinants of the evidence-practice gap; specific behavioural changes and/or process changes needed to increase DCD; specific group(s) of clinicians or organizations (e.g., provincial donor organizations) in need of behaviour change; and specific targets for interventions. In step two, using the principles of intervention mapping, we will develop a theory-based knowledge translation intervention that encompasses behavior change techniques to overcome the identified barriers and enhance the enablers to DCD. In step three, we will roll out the intervention in hospitals across the 10 Canadian provinces and evaluate its effectiveness using a multiple interrupted time series design.
We will adopt a behavioural approach to define and test novel, theory-based, and ethically-acceptable knowledge translation strategies to increase the numbers of available DCD organ donors in Canada. If successful, this study will ultimately lead to more transplantations, reducing patient morbidity and mortality at a population-level.
PMCID: PMC4082291  PMID: 24950719
16.  The use of segmented regression in analysing interrupted time series studies: an example in pre-hospital ambulance care 
An interrupted time series design is a powerful quasi-experimental approach for evaluating effects of interventions introduced at a specific point in time. To utilize the strength of this design, a modification to standard regression analysis, such as segmented regression, is required. In segmented regression analysis, the change in intercept and/or slope from pre- to post-intervention is estimated and used to test causal hypotheses about the intervention. We illustrate segmented regression using data from a previously published study that evaluated the effectiveness of a collaborative intervention to improve quality in pre-hospital ambulance care for acute myocardial infarction (AMI) and stroke. In the original analysis, a standard regression model was used with time as a continuous variable. We contrast the results from this standard regression analysis with those from segmented regression analysis. We discuss the limitations of the former and advantages of the latter, as well as the challenges of using segmented regression in analysing complex quality improvement interventions.
Based on the estimated change in intercept and slope from pre- to post-intervention using segmented regression, we found insufficient evidence of a statistically significant effect on quality of care for stroke, although potential clinically important effects for AMI cannot be ruled out.
Segmented regression analysis is the recommended approach for analysing data from an interrupted time series study. Several modifications to the basic segmented regression analysis approach are available to deal with challenges arising in the evaluation of complex quality improvement interventions.
PMCID: PMC4068621  PMID: 24943919
Interrupted time series design; Segmented regression analysis; Quality improvement collaborative
17.  Improving Diabetes care through Examining, Advising, and prescribing (IDEA): protocol for a theory-based cluster randomised controlled trial of a multiple behaviour change intervention aimed at primary healthcare professionals 
New clinical research findings may require clinicians to change their behaviour to provide high-quality care to people with type 2 diabetes, likely requiring them to change multiple different clinical behaviours. The present study builds on findings from a UK-wide study of theory-based behavioural and organisational factors associated with prescribing, advising, and examining consistent with high-quality diabetes care.
To develop and evaluate the effectiveness and cost of an intervention to improve multiple behaviours in clinicians involved in delivering high-quality care for type 2 diabetes.
We will conduct a two-armed cluster randomised controlled trial in 44 general practices in the North East of England to evaluate a theory-based behaviour change intervention. We will target improvement in six underperformed clinical behaviours highlighted in quality standards for type 2 diabetes: prescribing for hypertension; prescribing for glycaemic control; providing physical activity advice; providing nutrition advice; providing on-going education; and ensuring that feet have been examined. The primary outcome will be the proportion of patients appropriately prescribed and examined (using anonymised computer records), and advised (using anonymous patient surveys) at 12 months. We will use behaviour change techniques targeting motivational, volitional, and impulsive factors that we have previously demonstrated to be predictive of multiple health professional behaviours involved in high-quality type 2 diabetes care. We will also investigate whether the intervention was delivered as designed (fidelity) by coding audiotaped workshops and interventionist delivery reports, and operated as hypothesised (process evaluation) by analysing responses to theory-based postal questionnaires. In addition, we will conduct post-trial qualitative interviews with practice teams to further inform the process evaluation, and a post-trial economic analysis to estimate the costs of the intervention and cost of service use.
Consistent with UK Medical Research Council guidance and building on previous development research, this pragmatic cluster randomised trial will evaluate the effectiveness of a theory-based complex intervention focusing on changing multiple clinical behaviours to improve quality of diabetes care.
Trial registration
PMCID: PMC4049486  PMID: 24886606
18.  Efficacy and safety of mesenchymal stromal cells in preclinical models of acute lung injury: a systematic review protocol 
Systematic Reviews  2014;3:48.
Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in humans is caused by an unchecked proinflammatory response that results in diffuse and severe lung injury, and it is associated with a mortality rate of 35 to 45%. Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs; ‘adult stem cells’) could represent a promising new therapy for this syndrome, since preclinical evidence suggests that MSCs may ameliorate lung injury. Prior to a human clinical trial, our aim is to conduct a systematic review to compare the efficacy and safety of MSC therapy versus controls in preclinical models of acute lung injury that mimic some aspects of the human ARDS.
We will include comparative preclinical studies (randomized and non-randomized) of acute lung injury in which MSCs were administered and outcomes compared to animals given a vehicle control. The primary outcome will be death. Secondary outcomes will include the four key features of preclinical acute lung injury as defined by the American Thoracic Society consensus conference (histologic evidence of lung injury, altered alveolar capillary barrier, lung inflammatory response, and physiological dysfunction) and pathogen clearance for acute lung injury models that are caused by infection. Electronic searches of MEDLINE, Embase, BIOSIS Previews, and Web of Science will be constructed and reviewed by the Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies (PRESS) process. Search results will be screened independently and in duplicate. Data from eligible studies will be extracted, pooled, and analyzed using random effects models. Risk of bias will be assessed using the Cochrane risk of bias tool, and individual study reporting will be assessed according to the Animal Research: Reporting of In Vivo Experiments (ARRIVE) guidelines.
The results of this systematic review will comprehensively summarize the safety and efficacy of MSC therapy in preclinical models of acute lung injury. Our results will help translational scientists and clinical trialists to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to perform a human clinical trial. These results may also guide future acute lung injury preclinical and clinical research.
PMCID: PMC4046388  PMID: 24887266
Mesenchymal stromal cells; Mesenchymal stem cells; Acute lung injury; Acute respiratory distress syndrome; Preclinical; Systematic review protocol
19.  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
20.  No more ‘business as usual’ with audit and feedback interventions: towards an agenda for a reinvigorated intervention 
Audit and feedback interventions in healthcare have been found to be effective, but there has been little progress with respect to understanding their mechanisms of action or identifying their key ‘active ingredients.’
Given the increasing use of audit and feedback to improve quality of care, it is imperative to focus further research on understanding how and when it works best. In this paper, we argue that continuing the ‘business as usual’ approach to evaluating two-arm trials of audit and feedback interventions against usual care for common problems and settings is unlikely to contribute new generalizable findings. Future audit and feedback trials should incorporate evidence- and theory-based best practices, and address known gaps in the literature.
We offer an agenda for high-priority research topics for implementation researchers that focuses on reviewing best practices for designing audit and feedback interventions to optimize effectiveness.
PMCID: PMC3896824  PMID: 24438584
Audit and feedback; Synthesis; Best practice; Implementation; Optimization
21.  Feedback GAP: pragmatic, cluster-randomized trial of goal setting and action plans to increase the effectiveness of audit and feedback interventions in primary care 
Audit and feedback to physicians is a commonly used quality improvement strategy, but its optimal design is unknown. This trial tested the effects of a theory-informed worksheet to facilitate goal setting and action planning, appended to feedback reports on chronic disease management, compared to feedback reports provided without these worksheets.
A two-arm pragmatic cluster randomized trial was conducted, with allocation at the level of primary care clinics. Participants were family physicians who contributed data from their electronic medical records. The ‘usual feedback’ arm received feedback every six months for two years regarding the proportion of their patients meeting quality targets for diabetes and/or ischemic heart disease. The intervention arm received these same reports plus a worksheet designed to facilitate goal setting and action plan development in response to the feedback reports. Blood pressure (BP) and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) values were compared after two years as the primary outcomes. Process outcomes measured the proportion of guideline-recommended actions (e.g., testing and prescribing) conducted within the appropriate timeframe. Intention-to-treat analysis was performed.
Outcomes were similar across groups at baseline. Final analysis included 20 physicians from seven clinics and 1,832 patients in the intervention arm (15% loss to follow up) and 29 physicians from seven clinics and 2,223 patients in the usual feedback arm (10% loss to follow up). Ten of 20 physicians completed the worksheet at least once during the study. Mean BP was 128/72 in the feedback plus worksheet arm and 128/73 in the feedback alone arm, while LDL was 2.1 and 2.0, respectively. Thus, no significant differences were observed across groups in the primary outcomes, but mean haemoglobin A1c was lower in the feedback plus worksheet arm (7.2% versus 7.4%, p<0.001). Improvements in both arms were noted over time for one-half of the process outcomes.
Appending a theory-informed goal setting and action planning worksheet to an externally produced audit and feedback intervention did not lead to improvements in patient outcomes. The results may be explained in part by passive dissemination of the worksheet leading to inadequate engagement with the intervention.
Trial registration NCT00996645
PMCID: PMC3878579  PMID: 24341511
22.  Evidence-based care of older people with suspected cognitive impairment in general practice: protocol for the IRIS cluster randomised trial 
Dementia is a common and complex condition. Evidence-based guidelines for the management of people with dementia in general practice exist; however, detection, diagnosis and disclosure of dementia have been identified as potential evidence-practice gaps. Interventions to implement guidelines into practice have had varying success. The use of theory in designing implementation interventions has been limited, but is advocated because of its potential to yield more effective interventions and aid understanding of factors modifying the magnitude of intervention effects across trials. This protocol describes methods of a randomised trial that tests a theory-informed implementation intervention that, if effective, may provide benefits for patients with dementia and their carers.
This trial aims to estimate the effectiveness of a theory-informed intervention to increase GPs’ (in Victoria, Australia) adherence to a clinical guideline for the detection, diagnosis, and management of dementia in general practice, compared with providing GPs with a printed copy of the guideline. Primary objectives include testing if the intervention is effective in increasing the percentage of patients with suspected cognitive impairment who receive care consistent with two key guideline recommendations: receipt of a i) formal cognitive assessment, and ii) depression assessment using a validated scale (primary outcomes for the trial).
The design is a parallel cluster randomised trial, with clusters being general practices. We aim to recruit 60 practices per group. Practices will be randomised to the intervention and control groups using restricted randomisation. Patients meeting the inclusion criteria, and GPs’ detection and diagnosis behaviours directed toward these patients, will be identified and measured via an electronic search of the medical records nine months after the start of the intervention. Practitioners in the control group will receive a printed copy of the guideline. In addition to receipt of the printed guideline, practitioners in the intervention group will be invited to participate in an interactive, opinion leader-led, educational face-to-face workshop. The theory-informed intervention aims to address identified barriers to and enablers of implementation of recommendations. Researchers responsible for identifying the cohort of patients with suspected cognitive impairment, and their detection and diagnosis outcomes, will be blind to group allocation.
Trial registration
Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry: ACTRN12611001032943 (date registered 28 September, 2011).
PMCID: PMC3765181  PMID: 23958469
23.  What supports do health system organizations have in place to facilitate evidence-informed decision-making? a qualitative study 
Decisions regarding health systems are sometimes made without the input of timely and reliable evidence, leading to less than optimal health outcomes. Healthcare organizations can implement tools and infrastructures to support the use of research evidence to inform decision-making.
The purpose of this study was to profile the supports and instruments (i.e., programs, interventions, instruments or tools) that healthcare organizations currently have in place and which ones were perceived to facilitate evidence-informed decision-making.
In-depth semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with individuals in three different types of positions (i.e., a senior management team member, a library manager, and a ‘knowledge broker’) in three types of healthcare organizations (i.e., regional health authorities, hospitals and primary care practices) in two Canadian provinces (i.e., Ontario and Quebec). The interviews were taped, transcribed, and then analyzed thematically using NVivo 9 qualitative data analysis software.
A total of 57 interviews were conducted in 25 organizations in Ontario and Quebec. The main findings suggest that, for the healthcare organizations that participated in this study, the following supports facilitate evidence-informed decision-making: facilitating roles that actively promote research use within the organization; establishing ties to researchers and opinion leaders outside the organization; a technical infrastructure that provides access to research evidence, such as databases; and provision and participation in training programs to enhance staff’s capacity building.
This study identified the need for having a receptive climate, which laid the foundation for the implementation of other tangible initiatives and supported the use of research in decision-making. This study adds to the literature on organizational efforts that can increase the use of research evidence in decision-making. Some of the identified supports may increase the use of research evidence by decision-makers, which may then lead to more informed decisions, and hopefully to a strengthened health system and improved health.
PMCID: PMC3750753  PMID: 23915278
24.  Threats to Validity in the Design and Conduct of Preclinical Efficacy Studies: A Systematic Review of Guidelines for In Vivo Animal Experiments 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(7):e1001489.
The vast majority of medical interventions introduced into clinical development prove unsafe or ineffective. One prominent explanation for the dismal success rate is flawed preclinical research. We conducted a systematic review of preclinical research guidelines and organized recommendations according to the type of validity threat (internal, construct, or external) or programmatic research activity they primarily address.
Methods and Findings
We searched MEDLINE, Google Scholar, Google, and the EQUATOR Network website for all preclinical guideline documents published up to April 9, 2013 that addressed the design and conduct of in vivo animal experiments aimed at supporting clinical translation. To be eligible, documents had to provide guidance on the design or execution of preclinical animal experiments and represent the aggregated consensus of four or more investigators. Data from included guidelines were independently extracted by two individuals for discrete recommendations on the design and implementation of preclinical efficacy studies. These recommendations were then organized according to the type of validity threat they addressed. A total of 2,029 citations were identified through our search strategy. From these, we identified 26 guidelines that met our eligibility criteria—most of which were directed at neurological or cerebrovascular drug development. Together, these guidelines offered 55 different recommendations. Some of the most common recommendations included performance of a power calculation to determine sample size, randomized treatment allocation, and characterization of disease phenotype in the animal model prior to experimentation.
By identifying the most recurrent recommendations among preclinical guidelines, we provide a starting point for developing preclinical guidelines in other disease domains. We also provide a basis for the study and evaluation of preclinical research practice.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
The development process for new drugs is lengthy and complex. It begins in the laboratory, where scientists investigate the causes of diseases and identify potential new treatments. Next, promising interventions undergo preclinical research in cells and in animals (in vivo animal experiments) to test whether the intervention has the expected effect and to support the generalization (extension) of this treatment–effect relationship to patients. Drugs that pass these tests then enter clinical trials, where their safety and efficacy is tested in selected groups of patients under strictly controlled conditions. Finally, the government bodies responsible for drug approval review the results of the clinical trials, and successful drugs receive a marketing license, usually a decade or more after the initial laboratory work. Notably, only 11% of agents that enter clinical testing (investigational drugs) are ultimately licensed.
Why Was This Study Done?
The frequent failure of investigational drugs during clinical translation is potentially harmful to trial participants. Moreover, the costs of these failures are passed onto healthcare systems in the form of higher drug prices. It would be good, therefore, to reduce the attrition rate of investigational drugs. One possible explanation for the dismal success rate of clinical translation is that preclinical research, the key resource for justifying clinical development, is flawed. To address this possibility, several groups of preclinical researchers have issued guidelines intended to improve the design and execution of in vivo animal studies. In this systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic), the authors identify the experimental practices that are commonly recommended in these guidelines and organize these recommendations according to the type of threat to validity (internal, construct, or external) that they address. Internal threats to validity are factors that confound reliable inferences about treatment–effect relationships in preclinical research. For example, experimenter expectation may bias outcome assessment. Construct threats to validity arise when researchers mischaracterize the relationship between an experimental system and the clinical disease it is intended to represent. For example, researchers may use an animal model for a complex multifaceted clinical disease that only includes one characteristic of the disease. External threats to validity are unseen factors that frustrate the transfer of treatment–effect relationships from animal models to patients.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 26 preclinical guidelines that met their predefined eligibility criteria. Twelve guidelines addressed preclinical research for neurological and cerebrovascular drug development; other disorders covered by guidelines included cardiac and circulatory disorders, sepsis, pain, and arthritis. Together, the guidelines offered 55 different recommendations for the design and execution of preclinical in vivo animal studies. Nineteen recommendations addressed threats to internal validity. The most commonly included recommendations of this type called for the use of power calculations to ensure that sample sizes are large enough to yield statistically meaningful results, random allocation of animals to treatment groups, and “blinding” of researchers who assess outcomes to treatment allocation. Among the 25 recommendations that addressed threats to construct validity, the most commonly included recommendations called for characterization of the properties of the animal model before experimentation and matching of the animal model to the human manifestation of the disease. Finally, six recommendations addressed threats to external validity. The most commonly included of these recommendations suggested that preclinical research should be replicated in different models of the same disease and in different species, and should also be replicated independently.
What Do These Findings Mean?
This systematic review identifies a range of investigational recommendations that preclinical researchers believe address threats to the validity of preclinical efficacy studies. Many of these recommendations are not widely implemented in preclinical research at present. Whether the failure to implement them explains the frequent discordance between the results on drug safety and efficacy obtained in preclinical research and in clinical trials is currently unclear. These findings provide a starting point, however, for the improvement of existing preclinical research guidelines for specific diseases, and for the development of similar guidelines for other diseases. They also provide an evidence-based platform for the analysis of preclinical evidence and for the study and evaluation of preclinical research practice. These findings should, therefore, be considered by investigators, institutional review bodies, journals, and funding agents when designing, evaluating, and sponsoring translational research.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The US Food and Drug Administration provides information about drug approval in the US for consumers and for health professionals; its Patient Network provides a step-by-step description of the drug development process that includes information on preclinical research
The UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) provides information about all aspects of the scientific evaluation and approval of new medicines in the UK; its My Medicine: From Laboratory to Pharmacy Shelf web pages describe the drug development process from scientific discovery, through preclinical and clinical research, to licensing and ongoing monitoring
The STREAM website provides ongoing information about policy, ethics, and practices used in clinical translation of new drugs
The CAMARADES collaboration offers a “supporting framework for groups involved in the systematic review of animal studies” in stroke and other neurological diseases
PMCID: PMC3720257  PMID: 23935460
25.  Evaluation of a Theory-Informed Implementation Intervention for the Management of Acute Low Back Pain in General Medical Practice: The IMPLEMENT Cluster Randomised Trial 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e65471.
This cluster randomised trial evaluated an intervention to decrease x-ray referrals and increase giving advice to stay active for people with acute low back pain (LBP) in general practice.
General practices were randomised to either access to a guideline for acute LBP (control) or facilitated interactive workshops (intervention). We measured behavioural predictors (e.g. knowledge, attitudes and intentions) and fear avoidance beliefs. We were unable to recruit sufficient patients to measure our original primary outcomes so we introduced other outcomes measured at the general practitioner (GP) level: behavioural simulation (clinical decision about vignettes) and rates of x-ray and CT-scan (medical administrative data). All those not involved in the delivery of the intervention were blinded to allocation.
47 practices (53 GPs) were randomised to the control and 45 practices (59 GPs) to the intervention. The number of GPs available for analysis at 12 months varied by outcome due to missing confounder information; a minimum of 38 GPs were available from the intervention group, and a minimum of 40 GPs from the control group. For the behavioural constructs, although effect estimates were small, the intervention group GPs had greater intention of practising consistent with the guideline for the clinical behaviour of x-ray referral. For behavioural simulation, intervention group GPs were more likely to adhere to guideline recommendations about x-ray (OR 1.76, 95%CI 1.01, 3.05) and more likely to give advice to stay active (OR 4.49, 95%CI 1.90 to 10.60). Imaging referral was not statistically significantly different between groups and the potential importance of effects was unclear; rate ratio 0.87 (95%CI 0.68, 1.10) for x-ray or CT-scan.
The intervention led to small changes in GP intention to practice in a manner that is consistent with an evidence-based guideline, but it did not result in statistically significant changes in actual behaviour.
Trial Registration
Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry ACTRN012606000098538
PMCID: PMC3681882  PMID: 23785427

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