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In cluster-randomized trials (CRT), groups rather than individuals are randomized to interventions. The aim of this study was to present critical design, implementation, and analysis issues to consider when planning a CRT in the healthcare setting and to synthesize characteristics of published CRT in the field of healthcare epidemiology.
A systematic review was conducted to identify CRT with infection control outcomes.
We identified the following 7 epidemiological principles: (1) identify design type and justify the use of CRT; (2) account for clustering when estimating sample size and report intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC)/coefficient of variation (CV); (3) obtain consent; (4) define level of inference; (5) consider matching and/or stratification; (6) minimize bias and/or contamination; and (7) account for clustering in the analysis. Among 44 included studies, the most common design was CRT with crossover (n = 15, 34%), followed by parallel CRT (n = 11, 25%) and stratified CRT (n = 7, 16%). Moreover, 22 studies (50%) offered justification for their use of CRT, and 20 studies (45%) demonstrated that they accounted for clustering at the design phase. Only 15 studies (34%) reported the ICC, CV, or design effect. Also, 15 studies (34%) obtained waivers of consent, and 7 (16%) sought consent at the cluster level. Only 17 studies (39%) matched or stratified at randomization, and 10 studies (23%) did not report efforts to mitigate bias and/or contamination. Finally, 29 studies (88%) accounted for clustering in their analyses.
We must continue to improve the design and reporting of CRT to better evaluate the effectiveness of infection control interventions in the healthcare setting.
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