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Ensuring Intervention Fidelity of an Attention Control Arm in a Multisite Randomized Controlled Trial.

Nursing Research 2023 December 20
BACKGROUND: Intervention fidelity is a critical element of randomized controlled trials, yet reporting of intervention fidelity among attention control arms is limited. Lack of fidelity to attention control procedures can affect study outcomes by either over- or underestimating the efficacy of the intervention under examination.

OBJECTIVES: This brief report describes the approach researchers took to promote fidelity to the attention control arm of a National Institutes of Health-funded pediatric palliative care randomized controlled trial.

METHODS: The Informational Meetings for Planning and Coordinating Treatment trial aims to determine the efficacy of a communication intervention that uses care team dyads (i.e., physicians partnered with nurses or advanced practice providers) to engage parents of children with cancer that have a poor prognosis in structured conversations about prognostic information, goals of care, and care planning. The intervention is compared to an attention control arm, which provides parents with structured conversations on common pediatric cancer education topics, such as talking with their child about their cancer, clinical trials, cancer treatment, side effects, etc. National Institutes of Health guidelines for assessing and implementing strategies to promote intervention fidelity were used to design (a) the attention control arm of a randomized controlled trial, (b) related attention control arm training, and (c) quality assurance monitoring.

RESULTS: Attention control study procedures were designed to mirror that of the intervention arm (i.e., same number, frequency, and time spent in study visits). Cluster randomization was used to allocate care team dyads to one arm of the randomized controlled trial. Care team dyads assigned to the attention control arm participated in online training sessions to learn attention control procedures, the different roles of research team members, and quality assurance methods. Fidelity to attention control procedures is assessed by both the interveners themselves and a quality assurance team.

DISCUSSION: Study design, training, and delivery are all critical to attention control fidelity. Baseline training often needs to be supplemented with booster training when time gaps occur between study start-up and implementation. Quality assurance procedures are essential to determine whether interveners consistently deliver attention control procedures correctly.

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