Protocol adherence for continuously titrated interventions in randomized trials: an overview of the current methodology and case study.
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BACKGROUND: The standard definition for protocol adherence is the proportion of all scheduled doses that are delivered. In clinical research, this definition has several limitations when evaluating protocol adherence in trials that study interventions requiring continuous titration. DISCUSSION: Building upon a specific case study, we analyzed a recent trial of a continuously titrated intervention to assess the impact of different definitions of protocol deviations on the interpretation of protocol adherence. The OVATION pilot trial was an open-label randomized controlled trial of higher (75-80 mmHg) versus lower (60-65 mmHg) mean arterial pressure (MAP) targets for vasopressor therapy in shock. In this trial, potential protocol deviations were defined as MAP values outside the targeted range for >4 consecutive hours during vasopressor therapy without synchronous and consistent adjustments of vasopressor doses. An adjudication committee reviewed each potential deviation to determine if it was clinically-justified or not. There are four reasons for this contextual measurement and reporting of protocol adherence. First, between-arm separation is a robust measure of adherence to complex protocols. Second, adherence assessed by protocol deviations varies in function of the definition of deviations and the frequency of measurements. Third, distinguishing clinically-justified vs. not clinically-justified protocol deviations acknowledges clinically sensible bedside decision-making and offers a clear terminology before the trial begins. Finally, multiple metrics exist to report protocol deviations, which provides different information but complementary information on protocol adherence. CONCLUSIONS: In trials of interventions requiring continuous titration, metrics used for defining protocol deviations have a considerable impact on the interpretation of protocol adherence. Definitions for protocol deviations should be prespecified and correlated with between-arm separation, if it can be measured.
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