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Reporting of and explanations for under-recruitment and over-recruitment in pragmatic trials: a secondary analysis of a database of primary trial reports published from 2014 to 2019

BMJ Open. 2022 Dec 9;12(12):e067656. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2022-067656.


OBJECTIVES: To describe the extent to which pragmatic trials underachieved or overachieved their target sample sizes, examine explanations and identify characteristics associated with under-recruitment and over-recruitment.

STUDY DESIGN AND SETTING: Secondary analysis of an existing database of primary trial reports published during 2014-2019, registered in, self-labelled as pragmatic and with target and achieved sample sizes available.

RESULTS: Of 372 eligible trials, the prevalence of under-recruitment (achieving <90% of target sample size) was 71 (19.1%) and of over-recruitment (>110% of target) was 87 (23.4%). Under-recruiting trials commonly acknowledged that they did not achieve their targets (51, 71.8%), with the majority providing an explanation, but only 11 (12.6%) over-recruiting trials acknowledged recruitment excess. The prevalence of under-recruitment in individually randomised versus cluster randomised trials was 41 (17.0%) and 30 (22.9%), respectively; prevalence of over-recruitment was 39 (16.2%) vs 48 (36.7%), respectively. Overall, 101 025 participants were recruited to trials that did not achieve at least 90% of their target sample size. When considering trials with over-recruitment, the total number of participants recruited in excess of the target was a median (Q1-Q3) 319 (75-1478) per trial for an overall total of 555 309 more participants than targeted. In multinomial logistic regression, cluster randomisation and lower journal impact factor were significantly associated with both under-recruitment and over-recruitment, while using exclusively routinely collected data and educational/behavioural interventions were significantly associated with over-recruitment; we were unable to detect significant associations with obtaining consent, publication year, country of recruitment or public engagement.

CONCLUSIONS: A clear explanation for under-recruitment or over-recruitment in pragmatic trials should be provided to encourage transparency in research, and to inform recruitment to future trials with comparable designs. The issues and ethical implications of over-recruitment should be more widely recognised by trialists, particularly when designing cluster randomised trials.

PMID:36600344 | DOI:10.1136/bmjopen-2022-067656

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