Lessons learnt during a complex, multicentre cluster randomised controlled trial: the ProAct65+ trial

Zoe Stevens, Hannah Carpenter, Sheena Gawler, Carolyn Belcher, Deborah Haworth, Denise Kendrick, Richard Morris, Tahir Masud, Dawn A Skelton, Steve Iliffe, ProAct65+ Team

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Failure to recruit to target or schedule is common in randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Innovative interventions are not always fully developed before being tested, and maintenance of fidelity to the intervention during trials can be problematic. Missing data can compromise analyses, and inaccurate capture of risks to participants can influence reporting of intervention harms and benefits.In this paper we describe how challenges of recruitment and retention of participants, standardisation and quality control of interventions and capture of adverse events were overcome in the ProAct65+ cluster RCT. This trial compared class-based and home-based exercise with usual care in people aged 65 years and over, recruited through general practice. The home-based exercise participants were supported by Peer Mentors.

RESULTS: (1) Organisational factors, including room availability in general practices, slowed participant recruitment so the recruitment period was extended and the number invited to participate increased. (2) Telephone pre-screening was introduced to exclude potential participants who were already very active and those who were frequent fallers. (3) Recruitment of volunteer peer mentors was difficult and time consuming and their acceptable case load less than expected. Lowering the age limit for peer mentors and reducing their contact schedule with participants did not improve recruitment. (4) Fidelity to the group intervention was optimised by introducing quality assurance observation of classes by experienced exercise instructors. (5) Diaries were used to capture data on falls, service use and other exercise-related costs, but completion was variable so their frequency was reduced. (6) Classification of adverse events differed between research sites so all events were assessed by both sites and discrepancies discussed.

CONCLUSIONS: Recruitment rates for trials in general practice may be limited by organisational factors and longer recruitment periods should be allowed for. Exercise studies may be attractive to those who least need them; additional screening measures can be employed to avoid assessment of ineligible participants. Enrolment of peer mentors for intervention support is challenging and needs to be separately tested for feasibility. Standardisation of exercise interventions is problematic when exercise programmes are tailored to participants' capabilities; quality assurance observations may assure fidelity of the intervention. Data collection by diaries can be burdensome to participants, resulting in variable and incomplete data capture; compromises in completion frequency may reduce missing data. Risk assessments are essential in exercise promotion studies, but categorisation of risks can vary between assessors; methods for their standardisation can be developed.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Accidental Falls
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Eligibility Determination
  • England
  • Exercise Therapy
  • General Practice
  • Group Processes
  • Home Care Services
  • Humans
  • Mentors
  • Patient Dropouts
  • Patient Selection
  • Peer Group
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care
  • Research Design
  • Sample Size
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


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