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Clin Trials. 2016 Dec;13(6):641-650. Epub 2016 Jul 17.

A practical Bayesian stepped wedge design for community-based cluster-randomized clinical trials: The British Columbia Telehealth Trial.

Author information

Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY, USA
Division of Biostatistics, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA.
Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, MN, USA.



Many clinical trial designs are impractical for community-based clinical intervention trials. Stepped wedge trial designs provide practical advantages, but few descriptions exist of their clinical implementational features, statistical design efficiencies, and limitations.


Enhance efficiency of stepped wedge trial designs by evaluating the impact of design characteristics on statistical power for the British Columbia Telehealth Trial.


The British Columbia Telehealth Trial is a community-based, cluster-randomized, controlled clinical trial in rural and urban British Columbia. To determine the effect of an Internet-based telehealth intervention on healthcare utilization, 1000 subjects with an existing diagnosis of congestive heart failure or type 2 diabetes will be enrolled from 50 clinical practices. Hospital utilization is measured using a composite of disease-specific hospital admissions and emergency visits. The intervention comprises online telehealth data collection and counseling provided to support a disease-specific action plan developed by the primary care provider. The planned intervention is sequentially introduced across all participating practices. We adopt a fully Bayesian, Markov chain Monte Carlo-driven statistical approach, wherein we use simulation to determine the effect of cluster size, sample size, and crossover interval choice on type I error and power to evaluate differences in hospital utilization.


For our Bayesian stepped wedge trial design, simulations suggest moderate decreases in power when crossover intervals from control to intervention are reduced from every 3 to 2 weeks, and dramatic decreases in power as the numbers of clusters decrease. Power and type I error performance were not notably affected by the addition of nonzero cluster effects or a temporal trend in hospitalization intensity.


Stepped wedge trial designs that intervene in small clusters across longer periods can provide enhanced power to evaluate comparative effectiveness, while offering practical implementation advantages in geographic stratification, temporal change, use of existing data, and resource distribution. Current population estimates were used; however, models may not reflect actual event rates during the trial. In addition, temporal or spatial heterogeneity can bias treatment effect estimates.


Bayesian analysis; community-based interventions; comparative effectiveness research; pragmatic clinical trials; stepped wedge design

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