Statistical methodologies to pool across multiple intervention studies
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Combining and analyzing data from heterogeneous randomized controlled trials of complex multiple-component intervention studies, or discussing them in a systematic review, is not straightforward. The present article describes certain issues to be considered when combining data across studies, based on discussions in an NIH-sponsored workshop on pooling issues across studies in consortia (see Belle et al. in Psychol Aging, 18(3):396-405, 2003). Several statistical methodologies are described and their advantages and limitations are explored. Whether weighting the different studies data differently, or via employing random effects, one must recognize that different pooling methodologies may yield different results. Pooling can be used for comprehensive exploratory analyses of data from RCTs and should not be viewed as replacing the standard analysis plan for each study. Pooling may help to identify intervention components that may be more effective especially for subsets of participants with certain behavioral characteristics. Pooling, when supported by statistical tests, can allow exploratory investigation of potential hypotheses and for the design of future interventions.
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