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1.  Activating clinical trials: a process improvement approach 
Trials  2016;17:106.
The administrative process associated with clinical trial activation has been criticized as costly, complex, and time-consuming. Prior research has concentrated on identifying administrative barriers and proposing various solutions to reduce activation time, and consequently associated costs. Here, we expand on previous research by incorporating social network analysis and discrete-event simulation to support process improvement decision-making.
We searched for all operational data associated with the administrative process of activating industry-sponsored clinical trials at the Office of Clinical Research of the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida. We limited the search to those trials initiated and activated between July 2011 and June 2012. We described the process using value stream mapping, studied the interactions of the various process participants using social network analysis, and modeled potential process modifications using discrete-event simulation.
The administrative process comprised 5 sub-processes, 30 activities, 11 decision points, 5 loops, and 8 participants. The mean activation time was 76.6 days. Rate-limiting sub-processes were those of contract and budget development. Key participants during contract and budget development were the Office of Clinical Research, sponsors, and the principal investigator. Simulation results indicate that slight increments on the number of trials, arriving to the Office of Clinical Research, would increase activation time by 11 %. Also, incrementing the efficiency of contract and budget development would reduce the activation time by 28 %. Finally, better synchronization between contract and budget development would reduce time spent on batching documentation; however, no improvements would be attained in total activation time.
The presented process improvement analytic framework not only identifies administrative barriers, but also helps to devise and evaluate potential improvement scenarios. The strength of our framework lies in its system analysis approach that recognizes the stochastic duration of the activation process and the interdependence between process activities and entities.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13063-016-1227-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4765218  PMID: 26907923
Clinical trials; Time factors; Quality improvement
2.  Rough set theory based prognostic classification models for hospice referral 
This paper explores and evaluates the application of classical and dominance-based rough set theory (RST) for the development of data-driven prognostic classification models for hospice referral. In this work, rough set based models are compared with other data-driven methods with respect to two factors related to clinical credibility: accuracy and accessibility. Accessibility refers to the ability of the model to provide traceable, interpretable results and use data that is relevant and simple to collect.
We utilize retrospective data from 9,103 terminally ill patients to demonstrate the design and implementation RST- based models to identify potential hospice candidates. The classical rough set approach (CRSA) provides methods for knowledge acquisition, founded on the relational indiscernibility of objects in a decision table, to describe required conditions for membership in a concept class. On the other hand, the dominance-based rough set approach (DRSA) analyzes information based on the monotonic relationships between condition attributes values and their assignment to the decision class. CRSA decision rules for six-month patient survival classification were induced using the MODLEM algorithm. Dominance-based decision rules were extracted using the VC-DomLEM rule induction algorithm.
The RST-based classifiers are compared with other predictive and rule based decision modeling techniques, namely logistic regression, support vector machines, random forests and C4.5. The RST-based classifiers demonstrate average AUC of 69.74 % with MODLEM and 71.73 % with VC-DomLEM, while the compared methods achieve average AUC of 74.21 % for logistic regression, 73.52 % for support vector machines, 74.59 % for random forests, and 70.88 % for C4.5.
This paper contributes to the growing body of research in RST-based prognostic models. RST and its extensions posses features that enhance the accessibility of clinical decision support models. While the non-rule-based methods—logistic regression, support vector machines and random forests—were found to achieve higher AUC, the performance differential may be outweighed by the benefits of the rule-based methods, particularly in the case of VC-DomLEM. Developing prognostic models for hospice referrals is a challenging problem resulting in substandard performance for all of the evaluated classification methods.
PMCID: PMC4659220  PMID: 26606986
Rough set theory; Dominance-based rough set approach; Hospice referral; Prognostic models
3.  Dual Processing Model for Medical Decision-Making: An Extension to Diagnostic Testing 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(8):e0134800.
Dual Processing Theories (DPT) assume that human cognition is governed by two distinct types of processes typically referred to as type 1 (intuitive) and type 2 (deliberative). Based on DPT we have derived a Dual Processing Model (DPM) to describe and explain therapeutic medical decision-making. The DPM model indicates that doctors decide to treat when treatment benefits outweigh its harms, which occurs when the probability of the disease is greater than the so called “threshold probability” at which treatment benefits are equal to treatment harms. Here we extend our work to include a wider class of decision problems that involve diagnostic testing. We illustrate applicability of the proposed model in a typical clinical scenario considering the management of a patient with prostate cancer. To that end, we calculate and compare two types of decision-thresholds: one that adheres to expected utility theory (EUT) and the second according to DPM. Our results showed that the decisions to administer a diagnostic test could be better explained using the DPM threshold. This is because such decisions depend on objective evidence of test/treatment benefits and harms as well as type 1 cognition of benefits and harms, which are not considered under EUT. Given that type 1 processes are unique to each decision-maker, this means that the DPM threshold will vary among different individuals. We also showed that when type 1 processes exclusively dominate decisions, ordering a diagnostic test does not affect a decision; the decision is based on the assessment of benefits and harms of treatment. These findings could explain variations in the treatment and diagnostic patterns documented in today’s clinical practice.
PMCID: PMC4526559  PMID: 26244571
4.  Patients’ values and preferences of the expected efficacy of hip arthroscopy for osteoarthritis: a protocol for a multinational structured interview-based study combined with a randomised survey on the optimal amount of information to elicit preferences 
BMJ Open  2014;4(10):e005536.
Symptomatic hip osteoarthritis (OA) is a disabling condition with up to a 25% cumulative lifetime risk. Total hip arthroplasty (THA) is effective in relieving patients’ symptoms and improving function. It is, however, associated with substantial risk of complications, pain and major functional limitation before patients can return to full function. In contrast, hip arthroscopy (HA) is less invasive and can postpone THA. However, there is no evidence regarding the delay in the need for THA that patients would find acceptable to undergoing HA. Knowing patients’ values and preferences (VP) on this expected delay is critical when making recommendations regarding the advisability of HA. Furthermore, little is known on the optimal amount of information regarding interventions and outcomes needed to present in order to optimally elicit patients’ VP.
Methods and analysis
We will perform a multinational, structured interview-based survey of preference in delay time for THA among patients with non-advanced OA who failed to respond to conservative therapy. We will combine these interviews with a randomised trial addressing the optimal amount of information regarding the interventions and outcomes required to elicit preferences. Eligible patients will be randomly assigned (1 : 1) to either a short or a long format of health scenarios of THA and HA. We will determine each patient's VP using a trade-off and anticipated regret exercises. Our primary outcomes for the combined surveys will be: (1) the minimal delay time in the need for THA surgery that patients would find acceptable to undertaking HA, (2) patients’ satisfaction with the amount of information provided in the health scenarios used to elicit their VPs.
Ethics and dissemination
The protocol has been approved by the Hamilton Integrated Research Ethics Board (HIREB13-506). We will disseminate our study findings through peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations, and make them available to guideline makers issuing recommendations addressing HA and THA.
PMCID: PMC4202002  PMID: 25326208
Patients' values and preference; Total Hip Arthroplasty; Hip Arthroscopy; Patient Written Information; Decision Making
5.  Evolution of Treatment Regimens in Multiple Myeloma: A Social Network Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(8):e104555.
Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are considered the gold standard for assessing the efficacy of new treatments compared to standard treatments. However, the reasoning behind treatment selection in RCTs is often unclear. Here, we focus on a cohort of RCTs in multiple myeloma (MM) to understand the patterns of competing treatment selections.
We used social network analysis (SNA) to study relationships between treatment regimens in MM RCTs and to examine the topology of RCT treatment networks. All trials considering induction or autologous stem cell transplant among patients with MM were eligible for our analysis. Medline and abstracts from the annual proceedings of the American Society of Hematology and American Society for Clinical Oncology, as well as all references from relevant publications were searched. We extracted data on treatment regimens, year of publication, funding type, and number of patients enrolled. The SNA metrics used are related to node and network level centrality and to node positioning characterization.
135 RCTs enrolling a total of 36,869 patients were included. The density of the RCT network was low indicating little cohesion among treatments. Network Betweenness was also low signifying that the network does not facilitate exchange of information. The maximum geodesic distance was equal to 4, indicating that all connected treatments could reach each other in four “steps” within the same pathway of development. The distance between many important treatment regimens was greater than 1, indicating that no RCTs have compared these regimens.
Our findings show that research programs in myeloma, which is a relatively small field, are surprisingly decentralized with a lack of connectivity among various research pathways. As a result there is much crucial research left unexplored. Using SNA to visually and analytically examine treatment networks prior to designing a clinical trial can lead to better designed studies.
PMCID: PMC4131914  PMID: 25119186
6.  How do physicians decide to treat: an empirical evaluation of the threshold model 
According to the threshold model, when faced with a decision under diagnostic uncertainty, physicians should administer treatment if the probability of disease is above a specified threshold and withhold treatment otherwise. The objectives of the present study are to a) evaluate if physicians act according to a threshold model, b) examine which of the existing threshold models [expected utility theory model (EUT), regret-based threshold model, or dual-processing theory] explains the physicians’ decision-making best.
A survey employing realistic clinical treatment vignettes for patients with pulmonary embolism and acute myeloid leukemia was administered to forty-one practicing physicians across different medical specialties. Participants were randomly assigned to the order of presentation of the case vignettes and re-randomized to the order of “high” versus “low” threshold case. The main outcome measure was the proportion of physicians who would or would not prescribe treatment in relation to perceived changes in threshold probability.
Fewer physicians choose to treat as the benefit/harms ratio decreased (i.e. the threshold increased) and more physicians administered treatment as the benefit/harms ratio increased (and the threshold decreased). When compared to the actual treatment recommendations, we found that the regret model was marginally superior to the EUT model [Odds ratio (OR) = 1.49; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.00 to 2.23; p = 0.056]. The dual-processing model was statistically significantly superior to both EUT model [OR = 1.75, 95% CI 1.67 to 4.08; p < 0.001] and regret model [OR = 2.61, 95% CI 1.11 to 2.77; p = 0.018].
We provide the first empirical evidence that physicians’ decision-making can be explained by the threshold model. Of the threshold models tested, the dual-processing theory of decision-making provides the best explanation for the observed empirical results.
PMCID: PMC4055375  PMID: 24903517
Medical decision-making; Threshold model; Dual-processing theory; Regret, Expected utility theory
7.  Dual processing model of medical decision-making 
Dual processing theory of human cognition postulates that reasoning and decision-making can be described as a function of both an intuitive, experiential, affective system (system I) and/or an analytical, deliberative (system II) processing system. To date no formal descriptive model of medical decision-making based on dual processing theory has been developed. Here we postulate such a model and apply it to a common clinical situation: whether treatment should be administered to the patient who may or may not have a disease.
We developed a mathematical model in which we linked a recently proposed descriptive psychological model of cognition with the threshold model of medical decision-making and show how this approach can be used to better understand decision-making at the bedside and explain the widespread variation in treatments observed in clinical practice.
We show that physician’s beliefs about whether to treat at higher (lower) probability levels compared to the prescriptive therapeutic thresholds obtained via system II processing is moderated by system I and the ratio of benefit and harms as evaluated by both system I and II. Under some conditions, the system I decision maker’s threshold may dramatically drop below the expected utility threshold derived by system II. This can explain the overtreatment often seen in the contemporary practice. The opposite can also occur as in the situations where empirical evidence is considered unreliable, or when cognitive processes of decision-makers are biased through recent experience: the threshold will increase relative to the normative threshold value derived via system II using expected utility threshold. This inclination for the higher diagnostic certainty may, in turn, explain undertreatment that is also documented in the current medical practice.
We have developed the first dual processing model of medical decision-making that has potential to enrich the current medical decision-making field, which is still to the large extent dominated by expected utility theory. The model also provides a platform for reconciling two groups of competing dual processing theories (parallel competitive with default-interventionalist theories).
PMCID: PMC3471048  PMID: 22943520
8.  Extensions to Regret-based Decision Curve Analysis: An application to hospice referral for terminal patients 
Despite the well documented advantages of hospice care, most terminally ill patients do not reap the maximum benefit from hospice services, with the majority of them receiving hospice care either prematurely or delayed. Decision systems to improve the hospice referral process are sorely needed.
We present a novel theoretical framework that is based on well-established methodologies of prognostication and decision analysis to assist with the hospice referral process for terminally ill patients. We linked the SUPPORT statistical model, widely regarded as one of the most accurate models for prognostication of terminally ill patients, with the recently developed regret based decision curve analysis (regret DCA). We extend the regret DCA methodology to consider harms associated with the prognostication test as well as harms and effects of the management strategies. In order to enable patients and physicians in making these complex decisions in real-time, we developed an easily accessible web-based decision support system available at the point of care.
The web-based decision support system facilitates the hospice referral process in three steps. First, the patient or surrogate is interviewed to elicit his/her personal preferences regarding the continuation of life-sustaining treatment vs. palliative care. Then, regret DCA is employed to identify the best strategy for the particular patient in terms of threshold probability at which he/she is indifferent between continuation of treatment and of hospice referral. Finally, if necessary, the probabilities of survival and death for the particular patient are computed based on the SUPPORT prognostication model and contrasted with the patient's threshold probability. The web-based design of the CDSS enables patients, physicians, and family members to participate in the decision process from anywhere internet access is available.
We present a theoretical framework to facilitate the hospice referral process. Further rigorous clinical evaluation including testing in a prospective randomized controlled trial is required and planned.
PMCID: PMC3305393  PMID: 22196308
9.  A Social Network Analysis of Treatment Discoveries in Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(3):e18060.
Controlled clinical trials are widely considered to be the vehicle to treatment discovery in cancer that leads to significant improvements in health outcomes including an increase in life expectancy. We have previously shown that the pattern of therapeutic discovery in randomized controlled trials (RCTs) can be described by a power law distribution. However, the mechanism generating this pattern is unknown. Here, we propose an explanation in terms of the social relations between researchers in RCTs. We use social network analysis to study the impact of interactions between RCTs on treatment success. Our dataset consists of 280 phase III RCTs conducted by the NCI from 1955 to 2006. The RCT networks are formed through trial interactions formed i) at random, ii) based on common characteristics, or iii) based on treatment success. We analyze treatment success in terms of survival hazard ratio as a function of the network structures. Our results show that the discovery process displays power law if there are preferential interactions between trials that may stem from researchers' tendency to interact selectively with established and successful peers. Furthermore, the RCT networks are “small worlds”: trials are connected through a small number of ties, yet there is much clustering among subsets of trials. We also find that treatment success (improved survival) is proportional to the network centrality measures of closeness and betweenness. Negative correlation exists between survival and the extent to which trials operate within a limited scope of information. Finally, the trials testing curative treatments in solid tumors showed the highest centrality and the most influential group was the ECOG. We conclude that the chances of discovering life-saving treatments are directly related to the richness of social interactions between researchers inherent in a preferential interaction model.
PMCID: PMC3065482  PMID: 21464896
10.  A regret theory approach to decision curve analysis: A novel method for eliciting decision makers' preferences and decision-making 
Decision curve analysis (DCA) has been proposed as an alternative method for evaluation of diagnostic tests, prediction models, and molecular markers. However, DCA is based on expected utility theory, which has been routinely violated by decision makers. Decision-making is governed by intuition (system 1), and analytical, deliberative process (system 2), thus, rational decision-making should reflect both formal principles of rationality and intuition about good decisions. We use the cognitive emotion of regret to serve as a link between systems 1 and 2 and to reformulate DCA.
First, we analysed a classic decision tree describing three decision alternatives: treat, do not treat, and treat or no treat based on a predictive model. We then computed the expected regret for each of these alternatives as the difference between the utility of the action taken and the utility of the action that, in retrospect, should have been taken. For any pair of strategies, we measure the difference in net expected regret. Finally, we employ the concept of acceptable regret to identify the circumstances under which a potentially wrong strategy is tolerable to a decision-maker.
We developed a novel dual visual analog scale to describe the relationship between regret associated with "omissions" (e.g. failure to treat) vs. "commissions" (e.g. treating unnecessary) and decision maker's preferences as expressed in terms of threshold probability. We then proved that the Net Expected Regret Difference, first presented in this paper, is equivalent to net benefits as described in the original DCA. Based on the concept of acceptable regret we identified the circumstances under which a decision maker tolerates a potentially wrong decision and expressed it in terms of probability of disease.
We present a novel method for eliciting decision maker's preferences and an alternative derivation of DCA based on regret theory. Our approach may be intuitively more appealing to a decision-maker, particularly in those clinical situations when the best management option is the one associated with the least amount of regret (e.g. diagnosis and treatment of advanced cancer, etc).
PMCID: PMC2954854  PMID: 20846413

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