Divergent confidence intervals among pre-specified analyses in the HiSTORIC stepped wedge trial: an exploratory post-hoc investigation

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Abstract

Background: The high-sensitivity cardiac troponin on presentation to rule out myocardial infarction (HiSTORIC) study was a stepped-wedge cluster randomised trial with long before-and-after periods, involving seven hospitals across Scotland. Results were divergent for the binary safety endpoint (type 1 or type 4b myocardial infarction or cardiac death) across certain pre-specified analyses, which warranted further investigation. In particular, the calendar-matched analysis produced an odds ratio in the opposite direction to the primary logistic mixed-effects model analysis.
Methods:
Several post-hoc statistical models were fitted to each of the co-primary outcomes of length of hospital stay and safety events, which included adjusting for exposure time, incorporating splines, and fitting a random time effect. We improved control of patient characteristics over time by adjusting for multiple additional covariates using different methods: direct inclusion, regression adjustment for propensity score, and weighting. A data augmentation approach was also conducted aiming to reduce the effect of sparse data bias. Finally, the raw data was examined.
Results: The new statistical models confirmed the results of the pre-specified trial analysis. In particular, the observed divergence between the calendar-matched and other analyses remained, even after performing the covariate adjustment methods, and after using data augmentation. Divergence was particularly acute for the safety endpoint, which had an event rate of 0.36% overall. Examining the raw data was particularly helpful to assess the sensitivity of the results to small changes in event rates and identify patterns in the data.
Conclusions: Our experience reveals the importance of conducting multiple pre-specified sensitivity analyses and examining the raw data, particularly for stepped wedge trials with low event rates or with a small number of sites. Before-and-after analytical approaches that adjust for differences in patient populations but avoid direct modelling of the time trend should be considered in future stepped wedge trials with similar designs.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPLoS ONE
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2022

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