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author:("breast, Jamie")
1.  National survey of physicians to determine the effect of unconditional incentives on response rates of physician postal surveys 
BMJ Open  2015;5(2):e007166.
Physicians are a commonly targeted group in health research surveys, but their response rates are often relatively low. The goal of this paper was to evaluate the effect of unconditional incentives in the form of a coffee card on physician postal survey response rates.
Following 13 key informant interviews and eight cognitive interviews a survey questionnaire was developed.
A random sample of 534 physicians, stratified by physician group (geriatricians, family physicians, emergency physicians) was selected from a national medical directory.
Using computer generated random numbers; half of the physicians in each stratum were allocated to receive a coffee card to a popular national coffee chain together with the first survey mailout.
The intervention was a $10 Tim Hortons gift card given to half of the physicians who were randomly allocated to receive the incentive.
265 (57.0%) physicians completed the survey. The response rate was significantly higher in the group allocated to receive the incentive (62.7% vs 51.3% in the control group; p=0.01).
Our results indicate that an unconditional incentive in the form of a coffee gift card can substantially improve physician response rates. Future research can look at the effect of varying amounts of cash on the gift cards on response rates.
PMCID: PMC4336460  PMID: 25694460
2.  Computer-supported feedback message tailoring: theory-informed adaptation of clinical audit and feedback for learning and behavior change 
Evidence shows that clinical audit and feedback can significantly improve compliance with desired practice, but it is unclear when and how it is effective. Audit and feedback is likely to be more effective when feedback messages can influence barriers to behavior change, but barriers to change differ across individual health-care providers, stemming from differences in providers’ individual characteristics.
The purpose of this article is to invite debate and direct research attention towards a novel audit and feedback component that could enable interventions to adapt to barriers to behavior change for individual health-care providers: computer-supported tailoring of feedback messages. We argue that, by leveraging available clinical data, theory-informed knowledge about behavior change, and the knowledge of clinical supervisors or peers who deliver feedback messages, a software application that supports feedback message tailoring could improve feedback message relevance for barriers to behavior change, thereby increasing the effectiveness of audit and feedback interventions. We describe a prototype system that supports the provision of tailored feedback messages by generating a menu of graphical and textual messages with associated descriptions of targeted barriers to behavior change. Supervisors could use the menu to select messages based on their awareness of each feedback recipient’s specific barriers to behavior change. We anticipate that such a system, if designed appropriately, could guide supervisors towards giving more effective feedback for health-care providers.
A foundation of evidence and knowledge in related health research domains supports the development of feedback message tailoring systems for clinical audit and feedback. Creating and evaluating computer-supported feedback tailoring tools is a promising approach to improving the effectiveness of clinical audit and feedback.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13012-014-0203-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4320482  PMID: 25603806
3.  Theory of planned behaviour can help understand processes underlying the use of two emergency medicine diagnostic imaging rules 
Clinical decision rules (CDRs) can be an effective tool for knowledge translation in emergency medicine, but their implementation is often a challenge. This study examined whether the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) could help explain the inconsistent results between the successful Canadian C-Spine Rule (CCR) implementation study and unsuccessful Canadian CT Head Rule (CCHR) implementation study. Both rules are aimed at improving the accuracy and efficiency of emergency department radiography use in clinical contexts that exhibit enormous inefficiency at the present time. The rules were prospectively derived and validated using the same methodology demonstrating high sensitivity and reliability. The rules subsequently underwent parallel implementations at 12 Canadian hospitals, yet only the CCR was observed to significantly reduce radiography ordering rates, while the CCHR failed to have any significant impact at all. The drastically different results are unlikely to be the result of differences in implementation strategies or the decision rules.
Physicians at the 12 participating Canadian hospitals were randomized to CCR or CCHR TPB surveys that were administered during the baseline phases of the implementation studies, before any intervention had taken place. The collected baseline survey data were linked to concurrent baseline physician and patient-specific imaging data, and subsequently analyzed using mixed effects linear and logistic models.
A total of 223 of the 378 eligible physicians randomized to a TPB survey completed their assigned baseline survey (CCR: 122 of 181; CCHR: 101 of 197). Attitudes were significantly associated with intention in both settings (CCR: ß = 0.40; CCHR: ß = 0.30), as were subjective norms (CCR: ß = 0.26; CCHR: ß = 0.73). Intention was significantly associated with actual image ordering for CCR (OR = 1.79), but not CCHR.
The TPB can be used to better understand processes underlying use of CDRs. TPB constructs were significantly associated with intention to perform both imaging behaviours, but intention was only associated with actual behaviour for CCR, suggesting that constructs outside of the TPB framework may need to be considered when seeking to understand use of CDRs.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13012-014-0088-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4243777  PMID: 25099167
Clinical decision rules; Canadian C-Spine Rule; Canadian CT-Head Rule; Theory of planned behaviour; Emergency physicians; Implementation study
5.  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
6.  Patient information leaflets (PILs) for UK randomised controlled trials: a feasibility study exploring whether they contain information to support decision making about trial participation 
Trials  2014;15:62.
Informed consent is regarded as a cornerstone of ethical healthcare research and is a requirement for most clinical research studies. Guidelines suggest that prospective randomised controlled trial (RCT) participants should understand a basic amount of key information about the RCTs they are being asked to enrol in in order to provide valid informed consent. This information is usually provided to potential participants in a patient information leaflet (PIL). There is evidence that some trial participants fail to understand key components of trial processes or rationale. As such, the existing approach to information provision for potential RCT participants may not be optimal. Decision aids have been used for a variety of treatment and screening decisions to improve knowledge, but focus more on overall decision quality, and may be helpful to those making decisions about participating in an RCT. We investigated the feasibility of using a tool to identify which items recommended for good quality decision making are present in UK PILs.
PILs were sampled from UK registered Clinical Trials Unit websites across a range of clinical areas. The evaluation tool, which is based on standards for supporting decision making, was applied to 20 PILs. Two researchers independently rated each PIL using the tool. In addition, word count and readability were assessed.
PILs scored poorly on the evaluation tool with the majority of leaflets scoring less than 50%. Specifically, presenting probabilities, clarifying and expressing values and structured guidance in deliberation and communication sub-sections scored consistently poorly. Tool score was associated with word count (r = 0.802, P <0.01); there was no association between score and readability (r = -0.372, P = 0.106).
The tool was feasible to use to evaluate PILs for UK RCTs. PILs did not meet current standards of information to support good quality decision making. Writers of information leaflets could use the evaluation tool as a framework during PIL development to help ensure that items are included which promote and support more informed decisions about trial participation. Further research is required to evaluate the inclusion of such information.
PMCID: PMC3936815  PMID: 24548781
Patient information leaflets; Informed consent; Randomised controlled trials; Decision support
7.  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
8.  A systematic review of the use of theory in randomized controlled trials of audit and feedback 
Audit and feedback is one of the most widely used and promising interventions in implementation research, yet also one of the most variably effective. Understanding this variability has been limited in part by lack of attention to the theoretical and conceptual basis underlying audit and feedback. Examining the extent of theory use in studies of audit and feedback will yield better understanding of the causal pathways of audit and feedback effectiveness and inform efforts to optimize this important intervention.
A total of 140 studies in the 2012 Cochrane update on audit and feedback interventions were independently reviewed by two investigators. Variables were extracted related to theory use in the study design, measurement, implementation or interpretation. Theory name, associated reference, and the location of theory use as reported in the study were extracted. Theories were organized by type (e.g., education, diffusion, organization, psychology), and theory utilization was classified into seven categories (justification, intervention design, pilot testing, evaluation, predictions, post hoc, other).
A total of 20 studies (14%) reported use of theory in any aspect of the study design, measurement, implementation or interpretation. In only 13 studies (9%) was a theory reportedly used to inform development of the intervention. A total of 18 different theories across educational, psychological, organizational and diffusion of innovation perspectives were identified. Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations and Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory were the most widely used (3.6% and 3%, respectively).
The explicit use of theory in studies of audit and feedback was rare. A range of theories was found, but not consistency of theory use. Advancing our understanding of audit and feedback will require more attention to theoretically informed studies and intervention design.
PMCID: PMC3702512  PMID: 23759034
Audit and feedback; Systematic review; Theory; Intervention design
9.  Understanding the Canadian adult CT head rule trial: use of the theoretical domains framework for process evaluation 
The Canadian CT Head Rule was prospectively derived and validated to assist clinicians with diagnostic decision-making regarding the use of computed tomography (CT) in adult patients with minor head injury. A recent intervention trial failed to demonstrate a decrease in the rate of head CTs following implementation of the rule in Canadian emergency departments. Yet, the same intervention, which included a one-hour educational session and reminders at the point of requisition, was successful in reducing cervical spine imaging rates in the same emergency departments. The reason for the varied effect of the intervention across these two behaviours is unclear. There is an increasing appreciation for the use of theory to conduct process evaluations to better understand how strategies are linked with outcomes in implementation trials. The Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF) has been used to explore health professional behaviour and to design behaviour change interventions but, to date, has not been used to guide a theory-based process evaluation. In this proof of concept study, we explored whether the TDF could be used to guide a retrospective process evaluation to better understand emergency physicians’ responses to the interventions employed in the Canadian CT Head Rule trial.
A semi-structured interview guide, based on the 12 domains from the TDF, was used to conduct telephone interviews with project leads and physician participants from the intervention sites in the Canadian CT Head Rule trial. Two reviewers independently coded the anonymised interview transcripts using the TDF as a coding framework. Relevant domains were identified by: the presence of conflicting beliefs within a domain; the frequency of beliefs; and the likely strength of the impact of a belief on the behaviour.
Eight physicians from four of the intervention sites in the Canadian CT Head Rule trial participated in the interviews. Barriers likely to assist with understanding physicians’ responses to the intervention in the trial were identified in six of the theoretical domains: beliefs about consequences; beliefs about capabilities; behavioural regulation; memory, attention and decision processes; environmental context and resources; and social influences. Despite knowledge that the Canadian CT Head Rule was highly sensitive and reliable for identifying clinically important brain injuries and strong beliefs about the benefits for using the rule, a number of barriers were identified that may have prevented physicians from consistently applying the rule.
This proof of concept study demonstrates the use of the TDF as a guiding framework to design a retrospective theory-based process evaluation. There is a need for further development and testing of methods for using the TDF to guide theory-based process evaluations running alongside behaviour change intervention trials.
PMCID: PMC3585785  PMID: 23433082
10.  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
11.  Building theories of knowledge translation interventions: Use the entire menu of constructs 
In the ongoing effort to develop and advance the science of knowledge translation (KT), an important question has emerged around how theory should inform the development of KT interventions.
Efforts to employ theory to better understand and improve KT interventions have until recently mostly involved examining whether existing theories can be usefully applied to the KT context in question. In contrast to this general theory application approach, we propose a ‘menu of constructs’ approach, where individual constructs from any number of theories may be used to construct a new theory. By considering the entire menu of available constructs, rather than limiting choice to the broader level of theories, we can leverage knowledge from theories that would never on their own provide a complete picture of a KT intervention, but that nevertheless describe components or mechanisms relevant to it. We can also avoid being forced to adopt every construct from a particular theory in a one-size-fits-all manner, and instead tailor theory application efforts to the specifics of the situation. Using audit and feedback as an example KT intervention strategy, we describe a variety of constructs (two modes of reasoning, cognitive dissonance, feed forward, desirable difficulties and cognitive load, communities of practice, and adaptive expertise) from cognitive and educational psychology that make concrete suggestions about ways to improve this class of intervention.
The ‘menu of constructs’ notion suggests an approach whereby a wider range of theoretical constructs, including constructs from cognitive theories with scope that makes the immediate application to the new context challenging, may be employed to facilitate development of more effective KT interventions.
PMCID: PMC3520870  PMID: 23173596
Theory; Audit and feedback; Knowledge translation; Constructs; Domains; Cognitive psychology; Education
12.  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
13.  A cross-country comparison of intensive care physicians’ beliefs about their transfusion behaviour: A qualitative study using the theoretical domains framework 
Evidence of variations in red blood cell transfusion practices have been reported in a wide range of clinical settings. Parallel studies in Canada and the United Kingdom were designed to explore transfusion behaviour in intensive care physicians. The aim of this paper is three-fold: first, to explore beliefs that influence Canadian intensive care physicians’ transfusion behaviour; second, to systematically select relevant theories and models using the Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF) to inform a future predictive study; and third, to compare its results with the UK study.
Ten intensive care unit (ICU) physicians throughout Canada were interviewed. Physicians’ responses were coded into theoretical domains, and specific beliefs were generated for each response. Theoretical domains relevant to behaviour change were identified, and specific constructs from the relevant domains were used to select psychological theories. The results from Canada and the United Kingdom were compared.
Seven theoretical domains populated by 31 specific beliefs were identified as relevant to the target behaviour. The domains Beliefs about capabilities (confident to not transfuse if patients’ clinical condition is stable), Beliefs about consequences (positive beliefs of reducing infection and saving resources and negative beliefs about risking patients’ clinical outcome and potentially more work), Social influences (transfusion decision is influenced by team members and patients’ relatives), and Behavioural regulation (wide range of approaches to encourage restrictive transfusion) that were identified in the UK study were also relevant in the Canadian context. Three additional domains, Knowledge (it requires more evidence to support restrictive transfusion), Social/professional role and identity (conflicting beliefs about not adhering to guidelines, referring to evidence, believing restrictive transfusion as professional standard, and believing that guideline is important for other professionals), and Motivation and goals (opposing beliefs about the importance of restrictive transfusion and compatibility with other goals), were also identified in this study. Similar to the UK study, the Theory of Planned Behaviour, Social Cognitive Theory, Operant Learning Theory, Action Planning, and Knowledge-Attitude-Behaviour model were identified as potentially relevant theories and models for further study. Personal project analysis was added to the Canadian study to explore the Motivation and goals domain in further detail.
A wide range of beliefs was identified by the Canadian ICU physicians as likely to influence their transfusion behaviour. We were able to demonstrate similar though not identical results in a cross-country comparison. Designing targeted behaviour-change interventions based on unique beliefs identified by physicians from two countries are more likely to encourage restrictive transfusion in ICU physicians in respective countries. This needs to be tested in future prospective clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC3527303  PMID: 22999460
14.  What is the role and authority of gatekeepers in cluster randomized trials in health research? 
Trials  2012;13:116.
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 sixth of the questions posed, namely, what is the role and authority of gatekeepers in CRTs in health research? ‘Gatekeepers’ are individuals or bodies that represent the interests of cluster members, clusters, or organizations. The need for gatekeepers arose in response to the difficulties in obtaining informed consent because of cluster randomization, cluster-level interventions, and cluster size. In this paper, we call for a more restrictive understanding of the role and authority of gatekeepers.
Previous papers in this series have provided solutions to the challenges posed by informed consent in CRTs without the need to invoke gatekeepers. We considered that consent to randomization is not required when cluster members are approached for consent at the earliest opportunity and before any study interventions or data-collection procedures have started. Further, when cluster-level interventions or cluster size means that obtaining informed consent is not possible, a waiver of consent may be appropriate. In this paper, we suggest that the role of gatekeepers in protecting individual interests in CRTs should be limited. Generally, gatekeepers do not have the authority to provide proxy consent for cluster members. When a municipality or other community has a legitimate political authority that is empowered to make such decisions, cluster permission may be appropriate; however, gatekeepers may usefully protect cluster interests in other ways. Cluster consultation may ensure that the CRT addresses local health needs, and is conducted in accord with local values and customs. Gatekeepers may also play an important role in protecting the interests of organizations, such as hospitals, nursing homes, general practices, and schools. In these settings, permission to access the organization relies on resource implications and adherence to institutional policies.
PMCID: PMC3443001  PMID: 22834691
15.  Acceptance of a pandemic influenza vaccine: a systematic review of surveys of the general public 
The effectiveness of pandemic vaccine campaigns such as the H1N1 vaccine rollout is dependent on both the vaccines’ effectiveness and the general public’s willingness to be vaccinated. It is therefore critical to understand the factors that influence the decision of members of the public whether to get vaccinated with new, emergently released vaccines.
A systematic review of English language quantitative surveys was conducted to identify consistent predictors of the decision to accept or decline any (pre)pandemic vaccine, including the H1N1 influenza A vaccine. A total of ten studies were included in this review and all pertained to the 2009 H1N1 influenza A pandemic. Respondents’ willingness to receive a pandemic vaccine ranged from 8%–67% across the ten studies. The factors reported to be consistent predictors of the intention to vaccinate were: risk of infection, proximity or severity of the public health event, severity of personal consequences resulting from the illness, harm or adverse events from the vaccine, acceptance of previous vaccination, and ethnicity. Age and sex were the demographic variables examined most frequently across the ten studies and there was no consistent association between these variables and the intention to accept or reject a pandemic vaccine.
Some predictors of the intention to accept or decline a (pre)pandemic vaccine or the H1N1 influenza A vaccine are consistently identified by surveys. Understanding the important factors influencing the acceptance of a pandemic vaccine by individual members of the public may help inform strategies to improve vaccine uptake during future pandemics.
PMCID: PMC3215344  PMID: 22114512
pandemic; H1N1 influenza A; emergent vaccine; personal risk; demographic
16.  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
17.  Reporting Guidelines for Survey Research: An Analysis of Published Guidance and Reporting Practices 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(8):e1001069.
Carol Bennett and colleagues review the evidence and find that there is limited guidance and no consensus on the optimal reporting of survey research.
Research needs to be reported transparently so readers can critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of the design, conduct, and analysis of studies. Reporting guidelines have been developed to inform reporting for a variety of study designs. The objective of this study was to identify whether there is a need to develop a reporting guideline for survey research.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a three-part project: (1) a systematic review of the literature (including “Instructions to Authors” from the top five journals of 33 medical specialties and top 15 general and internal medicine journals) to identify guidance for reporting survey research; (2) a systematic review of evidence on the quality of reporting of surveys; and (3) a review of reporting of key quality criteria for survey research in 117 recently published reports of self-administered surveys. Fewer than 7% of medical journals (n = 165) provided guidance to authors on survey research despite a majority having published survey-based studies in recent years. We identified four published checklists for conducting or reporting survey research, none of which were validated. We identified eight previous reviews of survey reporting quality, which focused on issues of non-response and accessibility of questionnaires. Our own review of 117 published survey studies revealed that many items were poorly reported: few studies provided the survey or core questions (35%), reported the validity or reliability of the instrument (19%), defined the response rate (25%), discussed the representativeness of the sample (11%), or identified how missing data were handled (11%).
There is limited guidance and no consensus regarding the optimal reporting of survey research. The majority of key reporting criteria are poorly reported in peer-reviewed survey research articles. Our findings highlight the need for clear and consistent reporting guidelines specific to survey research.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Surveys, or questionnaires, are an essential component of many types of research, including health, and usually gather information by asking a sample of people questions on a specific topic and then generalizing the results to a larger population. Surveys are especially important when addressing topics that are difficult to assess using other approaches and usually rely on self reporting, for example self-reported behaviors, such as eating habits, satisfaction, beliefs, knowledge, attitudes, opinions. However, the methods used in conducting survey research can significantly affect the reliability, validity, and generalizability of study results, and without clear reporting of the methods used in surveys, it is difficult or impossible to assess these characteristics and therefore to have confidence in the findings.
Why Was This Study Done?
This uncertainty in other forms of research has given rise to Reporting Guidelines—evidence-based, validated tools that aim to improve the reporting quality of health research. The STROBE (STrengthening the Reporting of OBservational studies in Epidemiology) Statement includes cross-sectional studies, which often involve surveys. But not all surveys are epidemiological, and STROBE does not include methods' and results' reporting characteristics that are unique to surveys. Therefore, the researchers conducted this study to help determine whether there is a need for a reporting guideline for health survey research.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified any previous relevant guidance for survey research, and any evidence on the quality of reporting of survey research, by: reviewing current guidance for reporting survey research in the “Instructions to Authors” of leading medical journals and in published literature; conducting a systematic review of evidence on the quality of reporting of surveys; identifying key quality criteria for the conduct of survey research; and finally, reviewing how these criteria are currently reported by conducting a review of recently published reports of self-administered surveys.
The researchers found that 154 of the 165 journals searched (93.3%) did not provide any guidance on survey reporting, even though the majority (81.8%) have published survey research. Only three of the 11 journals that provided some guidance gave more than one directive or statement. Five papers and one Internet site provided guidance on the reporting of survey research, but none used validated measures or explicit methods for development. The researchers identified eight papers that addressed the quality of reporting of some aspect of survey research: the reporting of response rates; the reporting of non-response analyses in survey research; and the degree to which authors make their survey instrument available to readers. In their review of 117 published survey studies, the researchers found that many items were poorly reported: few studies provided the survey or core questions (35%), reported the validity or reliability of the instrument (19%), discussed the representativeness of the sample (11%), or identified how missing data were handled (11%). Furthermore, (88 [75%]) did not include any information on consent procedures for research participants, and one-third (40 [34%]) of papers did not report whether the study had received research ethics board review.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Overall, these results show that guidance is limited and consensus lacking about the optimal reporting of survey research, and they highlight the need for a well-developed reporting guideline specifically for survey research—possibly an extension of the guideline for observational studies in epidemiology (STROBE)—that will provide the structure to ensure more complete reporting and allow clearer review and interpretation of the results from surveys.
Additional Information
Please access these web sites via the online version of this summary at
More than 100 reporting guidelines covering a broad spectrum of research types are indexed on the EQUATOR Networks web site
More information about STROBE is available on the STROBE Statement web site
PMCID: PMC3149080  PMID: 21829330
18.  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
19.  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
20.  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
21.  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
22.  Presenting Evidence to Patients Online: What Do Web Users Think of Consumer Summaries of Cochrane Musculoskeletal Reviews? 
The Internet has the potential to be an effective medium for delivering health care knowledge to consumers. While computer usability research makes recommendations about how to present Web-based information generally, there remains no clear guidance on how to present specific forms of health care research evidence online in a way that facilitates understanding and good health care decision making.
The two goals of this study were to describe the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Group’s (CMSG’s) process for developing online patient-focused summaries of systematic reviews and to evaluate the impressions of these summaries formed by users.
A process for summarizing the results of systematic reviews via consumer summaries has evolved over 15 years. An evaluation of this approach took the form of Internet surveys on the Arthritis Society of Canada website and surveys of members of the Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance (CAPA). Respondents provided information on background, relationship to the decision, their satisfaction with and preparation for decision making, and suggestions for improvements to the summaries. Survey data were collected between August 1, 2005, and February 28, 2006.
A total of 261 respondents completed the survey. The majority (226/261 or 87%) of respondents reported having an arthritis-related condition. The consumer summary approach was generally reviewed favorably by respondents, with most agreeing that the summary provided appropriate information (177/261 or 68%), would be useful to others (160/261 or 61%), was well laid out (159/261 or 61%), was easy to learn from (157/261 or 60%), and was useful to the reader (153/261 or 59%). Areas of potential improvement were indicated by relatively fewer respondents agreeing that they could easily find all the information they wanted (118/261 or 45%), by a substantial proportion being unable to judge whether the providers of the information are reliable (80/261 or 31%), and by a similar proportion being unable to determine whether the information presented was the best available (68/261 or 26%).
The CMSG has developed an approach to summarizing the results of often-technical systematic reviews into public-friendly consumer summaries. Our online survey showed that this approach was generally well liked but identified specific areas for improvement. Feedback from this survey will help to reshape and improve the current template for consumer summaries used by the CMSG.
PMCID: PMC3221355  PMID: 21247863
Decision support techniques; health care surveys; Internet; patient education; patient satisfaction; patient-centered care; musculoskeletal diseases
23.  A prospective cluster-randomized trial to implement the Canadian CT Head Rule in emergency departments 
The Canadian CT Head Rule was developed to allow physicians to be more selective when ordering computed tomography (CT) imaging for patients with minor head injury. We sought to evaluate the effectiveness of implementing this validated decision rule at multiple emergency departments.
We conducted a matched-pair cluster-randomized trial that compared the outcomes of 4531 patients with minor head injury during two 12-month periods (before and after) at hospital emergency departments in Canada, six of which were randomly allocated as intervention sites and six as control sites. At the intervention sites, active strategies, including education, changes to policy and real-time reminders on radiologic requisitions were used to implement the Canadian CT Head Rule. The main outcome measure was referral for CT scan of the head.
Baseline characteristics of patients were similar when comparing control to intervention sites. At the intervention sites, the proportion of patients referred for CT imaging increased from the “before” period (62.8%) to the “after” period (76.2%) (difference +13.3%, 95% CI 9.7%–17.0%). At the control sites, the proportion of CT imaging usage also increased, from 67.5% to 74.1% (difference +6.7%, 95% CI 2.6%–10.8%). The change in mean imaging rates from the “before” period to the “after” period for intervention versus control hospitals was not significant (p = 0.16). There were no missed brain injuries or adverse outcomes.
Our knowledge–translation-based trial of the Canadian CT Head Rule did not reduce rates of CT imaging in Canadian emergency departments. Future studies should identify strategies to deal with barriers to implementation of this decision rule and explore more effective approaches to knowledge translation. ( trial register no. NCT00993252)
PMCID: PMC2950184  PMID: 20732978
24.  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
25.  Implementation of the Canadian C-Spine Rule: prospective 12 centre cluster randomised trial 
Objective To evaluate the effectiveness of an active strategy to implement the validated Canadian C-Spine Rule into multiple emergency departments.
Design Matched pair cluster randomised trial.
Setting University and community emergency departments in Canada.
Participants 11 824 alert and stable adults presenting with blunt trauma to the head or neck at one of 12 hospitals.
Interventions Six hospitals were randomly allocated to the intervention and six to the control. At the intervention sites, active strategies were used to implement the Canadian C-Spine Rule, including education, policy, and real time reminders on radiology requisitions. No specific intervention was introduced to alter the behaviour of doctors requesting cervical spine imaging at the control sites.
Main outcome measure Diagnostic imaging rate of the cervical spine during two 12 month before and after periods.
Results Patients were balanced between control and intervention sites. From the before to the after periods, the intervention group showed a relative reduction in cervical spine imaging of 12.8% (95% confidence interval 9% to 16%; 61.7% v 53.3%; P=0.01) and the control group a relative increase of 12.5% (7% to 18%; 52.8% v 58.9%; P=0.03). These changes were significant when both groups were compared (P<0.001). No fractures were missed and no adverse outcomes occurred.
Conclusions Implementation of the Canadian C-Spine Rule led to a significant decrease in imaging without injuries being missed or patient morbidity. Final imaging rates were much lower at intervention sites than at most US hospitals. Widespread implementation of this rule could lead to reduced healthcare costs and more efficient patient flow in busy emergency departments worldwide.
Trial registration Clinical trials NCT00290875.
PMCID: PMC2770593  PMID: 19875425

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