Ethical Issues in Pragmatic Cluster-Randomized Trials in Dialysis Facilities
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A pragmatic cluster-randomized trial (CRT) is a research design that may be used to efficiently test promising interventions that directly inform dialysis care. While the Ottawa Statement on the Ethical Design and Conduct of Cluster Randomized Trials provides general ethical guidance for CRTs, the dialysis setting raises additional considerations. In this article, we outline ethical issues raised by pragmatic CRTs in dialysis facilities. These issues may be divided into 7 key domains: justifying the use of cluster randomization, adopting randomly allocated individual-level interventions as a facility standard of care, conducting benefit-harm analyses, gatekeepers and their responsibilities, obtaining informed consent from research participants, patient notification, and including vulnerable participants. We describe existing guidelines relevant to each domain, illustrate how they were considered in the Time to Reduce Mortality in End-Stage Renal Disease (TiME) trial (a prototypical pragmatic hemodialysis CRT), and highlight remaining areas of uncertainty. The following is the first step in an interdisciplinary mixed-methods research project to guide the design and conduct of pragmatic CRTs in dialysis facilities. Subsequent work will expand on these concepts and when possible, argue for a preferred solution.
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