Intended for healthcare professionals


Cluster randomised trials: time for improvement

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 31 October 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1171

The implications of adopting a cluster design are still largely being ignored

  1. Marion K Campbell (, Senior statistician,
  2. Jeremy M Grimshaw, Programme director
  1. Health Services Research Unit, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD

    Cluster randomised trials, where groups of patients rather than individuals are randomised, are increasingly being used in health services research. Randomisation by individual is inappropriate for evaluating some interventions, such as organisational changes, where it may not be feasible to randomise at the patient level. In such cases cluster randomisation at the level of the health professional or organisation is necessary. Such randomisation can also minimise the potential for contamination between treatments when trial patients are managed within the same setting.

    The main consequence of adopting a cluster design is that the outcome for each patient can no longer be assumed to be independent of that for any other patient (which is the case in an individually randomised trial). Patients within any one cluster are more likely to have similar outcomes. For example, the management of patients within a single general practice is more likely to be consistent …

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