Pilot trials often use quantitative data such as recruitment rate and retention rate to inform the design and feasibility of a larger trial. However, qualitative data such as patient, healthcare provider, and research staff perceptions of an intervention may also provide insights for a larger trial.
As part of a larger study investigating the reporting of progression criteria in pilot studies, we sought to determine how often pilot studies planned to use qualitative data to inform the design and feasibility of a larger trial and the factors associated with plans to use qualitative data. We searched for protocols of pilot studies of randomized trials in PubMed between 2013 and 2017.
We included 227 articles. Only 92 (40.5%; 95% confidence interval [CI] 34.1–47.2) reported plans to collect qualitative data. The factors associated with collecting qualitative data were large studies (defined as sample size ≥ 60; adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 2.77; 95% CI 1.47–5.23;
p= 0.002) and studies from Europe (aOR 3.86; 95% CI 1.68–8.88; p= 0.001) compared to North America and the rest of the world. Pilot trials with pharmacological interventions were less likely to plan to collect qualitative data (aOR 0.20; 95% CI 0.07–0.58; p= 0.003). Conclusions
Qualitative data is not used enough in pilot trials. Large pilot trials, pilot trials from Europe, and pilot trials of non-pharmacological interventions are more likely to plan for qualitative data.