Centre Selection for Clinical Trials and the Generalisability of Results: A Mixed Methods Study
Background: The rationale for centre selection in randomised controlled trials (RCTs) is often unclear but may have important implications for the generalisability of trial results. The aims of this study were to evaluate the factors which currently influence centre selection in RCTs and consider how generalisability considerations inform current and optimal practice. Methods and Findings: Mixed methods approach consisting of a systematic review and meta-summary of centre selection criteria reported in RCT protocols funded by the UK National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) initiated between January 2005-January 2012; and an online survey on the topic of current and optimal centre selection, distributed to professionals in the 48 UK Clinical Trials Units and 10 NIHR Research Design Services. The survey design was informed by the systematic review and by two focus groups conducted with trialists at the Birmingham Centre for Clinical Trials. 129 trial protocols were included in the systematic review, with a total target sample size in excess of 317,000 participants. The meta-summary identified 53 unique centre selection criteria. 78 protocols (60%) provided at least one criterion for centre selection, but only 31 (24%) protocols explicitly acknowledged generalisability. This is consistent with the survey findings (n = 70), where less than a third of participants reported generalisability as a key driver of centre selection in current practice. This contrasts with trialists' views on optimal practice, where generalisability in terms of clinical practice, population characteristics and economic results were prime considerations for 60% (n = 42), 57% (n = 40) and 46% (n = 32) of respondents, respectively. Conclusions: Centres are rarely enrolled in RCTs with an explicit view to external validity, although trialists acknowledge that incorporating generalisability in centre selection should ideally be more prominent. There is a need to operationalize 'generalisability' and incorporate it at the design stage of RCTs so that results are readily transferable to 'real world' practice. © 2013 Gheorghe et al.