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Unequal cluster sizes in stepped-wedge cluster randomised trials: a systematic review

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journal contribution
posted on 2018-04-10, 10:05 authored by Caroline Kristunas, Tom Morris, Laura Gray
OBJECTIVES: To investigate the extent to which cluster sizes vary in stepped-wedge cluster randomised trials (SW-CRT) and whether any variability is accounted for during the sample size calculation and analysis of these trials. SETTING: Any, not limited to healthcare settings. PARTICIPANTS: Any taking part in an SW-CRT published up to March 2016. PRIMARY AND SECONDARY OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary outcome is the variability in cluster sizes, measured by the coefficient of variation (CV) in cluster size. Secondary outcomes include the difference between the cluster sizes assumed during the sample size calculation and those observed during the trial, any reported variability in cluster sizes and whether the methods of sample size calculation and methods of analysis accounted for any variability in cluster sizes. RESULTS: Of the 101 included SW-CRTs, 48% mentioned that the included clusters were known to vary in size, yet only 13% of these accounted for this during the calculation of the sample size. However, 69% of the trials did use a method of analysis appropriate for when clusters vary in size. Full trial reports were available for 53 trials. The CV was calculated for 23 of these: the median CV was 0.41 (IQR: 0.22-0.52). Actual cluster sizes could be compared with those assumed during the sample size calculation for 14 (26%) of the trial reports; the cluster sizes were between 29% and 480% of that which had been assumed. CONCLUSIONS: Cluster sizes often vary in SW-CRTs. Reporting of SW-CRTs also remains suboptimal. The effect of unequal cluster sizes on the statistical power of SW-CRTs needs further exploration and methods appropriate to studies with unequal cluster sizes need to be employed.



BMJ Open, 2017, 7:e017151

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