Methodological challenges in conducting a multi-site randomized clinical trial of massage therapy in hospice
Researchers conducting multi-site studies of interventions for end-of-life symptom management face significant challenges with respect to obtaining an adequate sample and training and retaining on-site study teams. The purpose of this paper is to describe the strategies and responses to these challenges in a multi-site randomized clinical trial (RCT) of the efficacy of massage therapy for decreasing pain among patients with advanced cancer in palliative care/hospice settings. Over a period of 36 months, we enrolled 380 participants across 15 sites; 27% of whom withdrew prior to study completion (less than the anticipated 30% rate). We saw an average of 68% turnover amongst study staff. Three key qualities characterized successful on-site study teams: (1) organizational commitment; (2) strong leadership from on-site study coordinators; and (3) effective lines of communication between the on-site study coordinators and both their teams and the university-based research team. Issues of recruitment, retention and training should be accounted for in hospice-based research study design and budgeting.