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1.  Explaining the effects of an intervention designed to promote evidence-based diabetes care: a theory-based process evaluation of a pragmatic cluster randomised controlled trial 
The results of randomised controlled trials can be usefully illuminated by studies of the processes by which they achieve their effects. The Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) offers a framework for conducting such studies. This study used TPB to explore the observed effects in a pragmatic cluster randomised controlled trial of a structured recall and prompting intervention to increase evidence-based diabetes care that was conducted in three Primary Care Trusts in England.
All general practitioners and nurses in practices involved in the trial were sent a postal questionnaire at the end of the intervention period, based on the TPB (predictor variables: attitude; subjective norm; perceived behavioural control, or PBC). It focussed on three clinical behaviours recommended in diabetes care: measuring blood pressure; inspecting feet; and prescribing statins. Multivariate analyses of variance and multiple regression analyses were used to explore changes in cognitions and thereby better understand trial effects.
Fifty-nine general medical practitioners and 53 practice nurses (intervention: n = 55, 41.98% of trial participants; control: n = 57, 38.26% of trial participants) completed the questionnaire. There were no differences between groups in mean scores for attitudes, subjective norms, PBC or intentions. Control group clinicians had 'normatively-driven' intentions (i.e., related to subjective norm scores), whereas intervention group clinicians had 'attitudinally-driven' intentions (i.e., related to attitude scores) for foot inspection and statin prescription. After controlling for effects of the three predictor variables, this group difference was significant for foot inspection behaviour (trial group × attitude interaction, beta = 0.72, p < 0.05; trial group × subjective norm interaction, beta = -0.65, p < 0.05).
Attitudinally-driven intentions are proposed to be more consistently translated into action than normatively-driven intentions. This proposition was supported by the findings, thus offering an interpretation of the trial effects. This analytic approach demonstrates the potential of the TPB to explain trial effects in terms of different relationships between variables rather than differences in mean scores. This study illustrates the use of theory-based process evaluation to uncover processes underlying change in implementation trials.
PMCID: PMC2603022  PMID: 19019242
2.  Testing a TheoRY-inspired MEssage ('TRY-ME'): a sub-trial within the Ontario Printed Educational Message (OPEM) trial 
A challenge for implementation researchers is to develop principles that could generate testable hypotheses that apply across a range of clinical contexts, thus leading to generalisability of findings. Such principles may be provided by systematically developed theories. The opportunity has arisen to test some of these theoretical principles in the Ontario Printed Educational Materials (OPEM) trial by conducting a sub-trial within the existing trial structure. OPEM is a large factorial cluster-randomised trial evaluating the effects of short directive and long discursive educational messages embedded into informed, an evidence-based newsletter produced in Canada by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and mailed to all primary care physicians in Ontario. The content of educational messages in the sub-trial will be constructed using both standard methods and methods inspired by psychological theory. The aim of this study is to test the effectiveness of the TheoRY-inspired MEssage ('TRY-ME') compared with the 'standard' message in changing prescribing behaviour.
The OPEM trial participants randomised to receive the short directive message attached to the outside of informed (an 'outsert') will be sub-randomised to receive either a standard message or a message informed by the theory of planned behaviour (TPB) using a two (long insert or no insert) by three (theory-based outsert or standard outsert or no outsert) design. The messages will relate to prescription of thiazide diuretics as first line drug treatment for hypertension (described in the accompanying protocol, "The Ontario Printed Educational Materials trial"). The short messages will be developed independently by two research teams.
The primary outcome is prescription of thiazide diuretics, measured by routinely collected data available within ICES. The study is designed to answer the question, is there any difference in guideline adherence (i.e., thiazide prescription rates) between physicians in the six groups? A process evaluation survey instrument based on the TPB will be administered pre- and post-intervention (described in the accompanying protocol, "Looking inside the black box"). The second research question concerns processes that may underlie observed differences in prescribing behaviour. We expect that effects of the messages on prescribing behaviour will be mediated through changes in physicians' cognitions.
Trial registration number
Current controlled trial ISRCTN72772651
PMCID: PMC2216024  PMID: 18039363
3.  Looking inside the black box: a theory-based process evaluation alongside a randomised controlled trial of printed educational materials (the Ontario printed educational message, OPEM) to improve referral and prescribing practices in primary care in Ontario, Canada 
Randomised controlled trials of implementation strategies tell us whether (or not) an intervention results in changes in professional behaviour but little about the causal mechanisms that produce any change. Theory-based process evaluations collect data on theoretical constructs alongside randomised trials to explore possible causal mechanisms and effect modifiers. This is similar to measuring intermediate endpoints in clinical trials to further understand the biological basis of any observed effects (for example, measuring lipid profiles alongside trials of lipid lowering drugs where the primary endpoint could be reduction in vascular related deaths).
This study protocol describes a theory-based process evaluation alongside the Ontario Printed Educational Message (OPEM) trial. We hypothesize that the OPEM interventions are most likely to operate through changes in physicians' behavioural intentions due to improved attitudes or subjective norms with little or no change in perceived behavioural control. We will test this hypothesis using a well-validated social cognition model, the theory of planned behaviour (TPB) that incorporates these constructs.
We will develop theory-based surveys using standard methods based upon the TPB for the second and third replications, and survey a subsample of Ontario family physicians from each arm of the trial two months before and six months after the dissemination of the index edition of informed, the evidence based newsletter used for the interventions. In the third replication, our study will converge with the "TRY-ME" protocol (a second study conducted alongside the OPEM trial), in which the content of educational messages was constructed using both standard methods and methods informed by psychological theory. We will modify Dillman's total design method to maximise response rates. Preliminary analyses will initially assess the internal reliability of the measures and use regression to explore the relationships between predictor and dependent variable (intention to advise diabetic patients to have annual retinopathy screening and to prescribe thiazide diuretics for first line treatment of uncomplicated hypertension). We will then compare groups using methods appropriate for comparing independent samples to determine whether there have been changes in the predicted constructs (attitudes, subjective norms, or intentions) across the study groups as hypothesised, and will assess the convergence between the process evaluation results and the main trial results.
Trial registration number
Current controlled trial ISRCTN72772651
PMCID: PMC2213685  PMID: 18039362

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