Mixed methods in health services research: Pitfalls and pragmatism

Mixed methods in health services
Pitfalls and pragmatism
Robyn McDermott
Mixed Methods Seminar
JCU 16-17 October 2014
What’s special about health services (and
much public health) research?
• Interventions are complex
• Settings are complex
• Standard control groups may not be
feasible/ethical/acceptable to services and/or
• “Contamination” is a problem
• Unmeasured bias/confounding
• Secular behaviour and policy change over time can be
strong, sudden and unpredictable
• Context is very important but often poorly described
• Example of the DCP
“Improving reporting quality”
• CONSORT: RCTs with updates for cluster RCTs
• TREND: Transparent Reporting of Evaluations
with Non-randomised Designs (focused on HIV
studies initially)
• PRISMA: Reporting systematic reviews of RCTs
• STROBE: Reporting of observational studies
• MOOSE: Reporting systematic reviews of
observations studies
Complex interventions
• Review of RCTs reported over a decade
• Less than 50% had sufficient detail of the intervention
to enable replication (Glasziou, 2008)
• Even fewer had a theoretical framework or logic model
• Systematic reviews of complex interventions often find
small if any effects, or contradictory findings. This may
be due to conflating studies without taking account of
the underlying theory for the intervention (eg
Segal,2012: Early childhood interventions)
TREND has a 22-item checklist
Item 4: Details of the interventions intended for each study
condition and how and when they were actually administered,
specifically including:
Content: what was given?
Delivery method: how was the content given?
Unit of delivery: how were the subjects grouped during delivery?
Deliverer: who delivered the intervention?
Setting: where was the intervention delivered?
Exposure quantity and duration: how many sessions or episodes or events
were intended to be delivered? How long were they intended to last?
• Time span: how long was it intended to take to deliver the intervention to
each unit?
• Activities to increase compliance or adherence (e.g., incentives)
Suggestions for improvements to TREND
Armstrong et al, J Public Health, 2008
• Introduction: Intervention model and theory
• Methods: Justify study design choice (eg
compromise between internal validity and
complexity and constraints of the setting)
• Results: Integrity (or fidelity) of the intervention
• Context, differential effects and multi-level
• Sustainability: For public health interventions,
beyond the life of the trial
Theoretical framework and logic model
for an intervention effect
(should be in the introduction- example from the Diabetes Care
Project – DCP, 2012-14)
Study design choice
(methods section)
• Strengths and weaknesses of the chosen study
• Operationalization of the design including:
– Group allocation,
– Choice of counterfactual,
– Choice of outcome measures, and
– Measurement methods
Implementation Fidelity
Part of process evaluation
Information on the Intensity,
Duration and
Reach of the intervention components and,
If and how these varied by subgroup (and how
to interpret this)
Effectiveness will vary by Context
Context elements can include
• Host organization and staff
• System effects (eg funding model, use of IT,
chronic care model for service delivery)
• Target population
Multilevel processes
Informed by Theoretical Model used eg Ottowa
Charter framework for prevention effectiveness
studies may involve analysis of
• Individual level data
• Community level data
• Jurisdictional level data
• Country level data
Differential effects and Sub-group
• Counter to the RCT orthodoxy of effectiveness
trials there may be value in looking at
differential effects by SES, gender, ethnicity,
geography, service model (eg CCHS)
• Even when there is insufficient statistical
power in individual studies
• Potential advantage is the possibility of a
pooled analysis of studies eg by SES impact
• Beyond the life of the trial (follow up typically
very short)
• Important for policy
• But not for your journal publication
• Sustainability research may require separate
study design and conduct
And finally…..
How do you put all this together and stay in
journal word limits?
• For briefings
• For journals
• For reports which will realistically get read?

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