The impact of iterative removal of low-information cluster-period cells from a stepped wedge design

Ehsan Rezaei-Darzi, Kelsey L. Grantham, Andrew B. Forbes, Jessica Kasza (Leading Author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Background: Standard stepped wedge trials, where clusters switch from the control to the intervention condition in a staggered manner, can be costly and burdensome. Recent work has shown that the amount of information contributed by each cluster in each period differs, with some cluster-periods contributing a relatively small amount of information. We investigate the patterns of the information content of cluster-period cells upon iterative removal of low-information cells, assuming a model for continuous outcomes with constant cluster-period size, categorical time period effects, and exchangeable and discrete-time decay intracluster correlation structures. Methods: We sequentially remove pairs of “centrosymmetric” cluster-period cells from an initially complete stepped wedge design which contribute the least amount of information to the estimation of the treatment effect. At each iteration, we update the information content of the remaining cells, determine the pair of cells with the lowest information content, and repeat this process until the treatment effect cannot be estimated. Results: We demonstrate that as more cells are removed, more information is concentrated in the cells near the time of the treatment switch, and in “hot-spots” in the corners of the design. For the exchangeable correlation structure, removing the cells from these hot-spots leads to a marked reduction in study precision and power, however the impact of this is lessened for the discrete-time decay structure. Conclusions: Removing cluster-period cells distant from the time of the treatment switch may not lead to large reductions in precision or power, implying that certain incomplete designs may be almost as powerful as complete designs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number160
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Correlation structure
  • Discrete-time decay
  • Highly efficient design
  • Incomplete design
  • Longitudinal cluster randomised trials

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