Information content of stepped-wedge designs when treatment effect heterogeneity and/or implementation periods are present

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Stepped-wedge cluster randomized trials, which randomize clusters of subjects to treatment sequences in which clusters switch from control to intervention conditions, are being conducted with increasing frequency. Due to the real-world nature of this design, methodological and implementation challenges are ubiquitous. To account for such challenges, more complex statistical models to plan studies and analyze data are required. In this paper, we consider stepped-wedge trials that accommodate treatment effect heterogeneity across clusters, implementation periods during which no data are collected, or both treatment effect heterogeneity and implementation periods. Previous work has shown that the sequence-period cells of a stepped-wedge design contribute unequal amounts of information to the estimation of the treatment effect. In this paper, we extend that work by considering the amount of information available for the estimation of the treatment effect in each sequence-period cell, sequence, and period of stepped-wedge trials with more complex designs and outcome models. When either treatment effect heterogeneity and/or implementation periods are present, the pattern of information content of sequence-period cells tends to be clustered around the times of the switch from control to intervention condition, similarly to when these complexities are absent. However, the presence and degree of treatment effect heterogeneity and the number of implementation periods can influence the information content of periods and sequences markedly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4686-4701
Number of pages16
JournalStatistics in Medicine
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2019


  • cluster randomized trial
  • implementation periods
  • intracluster correlation
  • stepped wedge
  • treatment effect heterogeneity

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