Health Technology Assessment 2005; Vol 9: number 38
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C Bartlett,1 L Doyal,2 S Ebrahim,1 P Davey,3 M Bachmann,4 M Egger5 and P Dieppe1*
1 Medical Research Council Health
Services Research Collaboration, Department of Social Medicine, University of
2 School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, UK
3 MEMO, Department of Clinical Pharmacology, University of Dundee, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, UK
4 School of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
5 Department of Social and Preventative Medicine, University of Berne, Switzerland
* Corresponding author
The exclusion from trials of people likely to be in need of or to benefit from an intervention could compromise the trials generalisability. We investigated the exclusion of women, older people and minority ethnic groups, focusing on two drug exemplars, statins and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
We reviewed literature on the exclusion of women, older people and ethnic minorities in healthcare research and held three workshops with stakeholders.
We analysed 27 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of statins use for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease (CHD), lasting at least 6 months (up to August 2001). We analysed a stratified sample of 25 NSAIDs trials for pain in osteoarthritis (OA) (up to 1998, prior to the introduction of coxibs).
Using a Scottish cohort with record-linkage [Medicines Monitoring Unit (Dundee) (MEMO)], we profiled 3188 people needing secondary prevention for CHD (19931996), ascertaining the independent effects of statins, and 131,410 people dispensed NSAIDs (19891996), examining adverse effects.
To profile the need for secondary prevention of CHD in England we accessed routine data sources including Hospital Episode Statistics (HES). To estimate usage we consulted published surveys. For potential need and usage of NSAIDs in OA we accessed the Somerset and Avon Survey of Health (SASH) 199697 and published data.
For both drugs, we compared the socio-demographic profiles of trial samples, the population in potential need and those on treatment.
We produced an evidence synthesis to clarify the effects of statins on women and older people. We modelled the relationship of absolute effectiveness outcomes (e.g. numbers needed to treat) with underlying risk levels of disease events, examining the likely effects of trial exclusions.
In the USA, the discourse has expanded from protecting the vulnerable to include justice and the equitable access of different groups to trials. Appropriate representation of women and ethnic minorities in publicly funded trials is required by legislation. Guidelines recommend appropriate inclusion by age. In the UK, the debate is more limited, and equity and inclusivity in research are not formally promoted.
The average age of trial participants was 58.5 years; only 16.3% were women. Statins reduced cardiovascular disease (CVD) incidence by about 25% in both men and women. Older people up to 75 years of age also benefited. Meta-analysis and two landmark trials, containing large proportions of women and older people (published after 2001), confirmed these results.
The average age of trial participants was 61.9 years and women were well represented (68.5%). Gastrointestinal (GI) adverse events were commonly reported, but renal side-effects were not. Outcomes were seldom reported according to socio-demographic group.
For both drugs, USA trials were more inclusive than UK/European trials. Ethnicity was not well reported for either drug.
Some 23% of the cohort were treated with statins. Statins users were younger than non-statins users (but no more likely to be male) and had superior outcomes.
High current exposure to NSAIDs elevated the risk of GI side-effects by about 50% versus no current exposure and renal impairment risk by nearly 140%. Side-effect risk increased with age; being female diminished risk.
Approximately 537,000 incident cases of CVD would qualify for statins use in England each year. Women constitute 45% of this population with need, two-thirds of whom are aged 65 years or over. Need varies by ethnic group. No sex bias in prescribing was detected, but use was commoner in younger people.
6.3% of adults aged 35+ years reported hip and/or knee pain associated with OA; 3.9% of adults used prescribed analgesics for this and they were more likely to be women and to be >65 years old.
Women formed almost half of the with need and on treatment populations, but were markedly under-represented in trials. Those aged 65+ years formed nearly two-thirds of the with need population, but only one-fifth of trial samples, and were less likely to be treated than younger subjects.
Women formed similar proportions (two-thirds) of trial samples, and of the with need and on treatment populations. People aged 65+ years formed about three-fifths of the on treatment population, but were under-represented in trials. Association of side-effects with socio-demographic factors was revealed in cohort data but not in trials.
Meta-analysis might overcome problems of low inclusion for the assessment of relative effectiveness, but the assessment of side-effects in different groups would require massive trials. Measures of absolute effectiveness are vital for the analyses of benefit and harm and cost-effectiveness. Such measurements, involving underlying risk levels, will be severely biased if different population groups are not adequately represented.
The issue of exclusion from trials of women, older people and ethnic minorities has been relatively neglected in the UK research community, and there is confusion about diversity issues. Under-representation occurs, but in drug trials at least this may not always affect the external validity of relative effect estimates. However, measures of absolute effectiveness, absolute harm and cost-effectiveness are associated with underlying risk levels in different socio-demographic groups. Under-representation will therefore bias absolute effect estimates. The complexity of the issues made development of a theoretical model impossible.
The following areas are suggested for future research:
Bartlett C, Doyal L, Ebrahim S, Davey P, Bachmann M, Egger M, et al. The causes and effects of socio-demographic exclusions from clinical trials. Health Technol Assess2005;9(38).
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