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Understanding usual care in randomised controlled trials of complex interventions: A multi-method approach

Yorganci, Emel; Evans, Catherine J; Johnson, Halle; Barclay, Stephen; Murtagh, Fliss E.M.; Yi, Deokhee; Gao, Wei; Pickles, Andrew; Koffman, Jonathan


Emel Yorganci

Catherine J Evans

Halle Johnson

Stephen Barclay

Deokhee Yi

Wei Gao

Andrew Pickles

Jonathan Koffman


Background Evaluations of complex interventions compared to usual care provided in palliative care are increasing. Not describing usual care may affect the interpretation of an intervention’s effectiveness, yet how it can be described remains unclear.
Aim To demonstrate the feasibility of using multi-methods to describe usual care provided in randomised controlled trials (RCT) of complex interventions; demonstrated within a feasibility cluster RCT.
Design Multi-method approach comprising usual care questionnaires, baseline case note review and focus groups with ward staff completed at study end. Thematic analysis of qualitative data, descriptive statistics of quantitative data, followed with methodological triangulation to appraise approach in relation to study aim.
Setting/participants Four general medical wards chosen from UK hospitals. Purposive sampling of healthcare professionals for usual care questionnaires, and focus groups. Review of 20 patients’ notes from each ward who died during admission or within 100 days of discharge.
Results 23 usual care questionnaires at baseline, two focus groups comprising 20 healthcare professionals and 80 case note reviews. Triangulation of findings resulted in understanding the usual care provided to the targeted population in terms of context, structures, processes, and outcomes for patients, families, and healthcare professionals. usual care was described, highlighting (i) similarities and embedded practices, (ii) heterogeneity, and (iii) subtle changes in care during the trial within and across sites.
Conclusions We provide a feasible approach to defining usual care that can be practically adopted in different settings. Understanding usual care enhances the reliability of tested complex interventions and informs research and policy priorities.


Evans, C. J., Yorganci, E., Evans, C. J., Johnson, H., Barclay, S., Murtagh, F. E., …Koffman, J. (2020). Understanding usual care in randomised controlled trials of complex interventions: A multi-method approach. Palliative medicine,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 17, 2020
Online Publication Date Feb 21, 2020
Publication Date May 1, 2020
Deposit Date Jan 20, 2020
Publicly Available Date Jan 21, 2020
Journal Palliative Medicine
Print ISSN 0269-2163
Electronic ISSN 1477-030X
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Randomised control trials; usual care; comparison; control; treatment; as usual; multimethod; mixed-method; complex interventions
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